Antonio Conte says Premier League decision to postpone north London derby was ‘very strange’

Antonio Conte says the Premier League’s decision to postpone Tottenham’s north London derby against Arsenal was “very strange” and called for his side to be shown “more respect”.

Spurs were due to host Arsenal in a crucial game as both sides battle for places in the top four, but it was called off on Saturday following the Gunners’ request to the Premier League.

Mikel Arteta’s side claimed they had “many players unavailable across our squad as a result of Covid, injuries and players away with their countries at AFCON (Africa Cup of Nations)”.

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Spurs responded to the Premier League’s decision on Saturday by calling it “very surprising”, and Conte has now questioned why injuries and international call-ups are being taken into account when clubs apply for matches to be postponed.

Merson Says: Too easy to get games called off

Paul Merson has had his say on the recent postponements in the Premier League, saying it has become too easy for clubs to get games called off.

“The club made a statement and I think the club expressed our disappointment about the decision,” said Conte. “It was for sure a strange decision.

“My feeling is that when there is a situation to play, we have to play and not postpone games for injuries or for international duty.

“We have a big problem to solve with Covid but only about this situation can you decide to postpone.

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“This is the first time in my life – and I have a bit of experience in football – to see this decision. In this way, anything can happen.”

Tottenham were successful in having their game at Brighton on December 12 called off due to a Covid outbreak, and they were also forced to postpone their final Europa Conference League group match at home to Rennes three days earlier.

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Speaking on Super Sunday, Micah Richards and Robbie Keane discuss whether the north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham should have ben postponed by the Premier League

Spurs were subsequently unable to replay the game against Rennes, which resulted in UEFA handing their French opponents a 3-0 victory that knocked Conte’s side out of the competition.

Conte says the reason Spurs could not rearrange the match was because the Premier League refused to move their game at Leicester on December 16 – a fixture that was later moved due to Covid cases in the Foxes’ squad.

Conte said the Premier League’s decision making was “difficult to accept” and caused “big damage” to Spurs, explaining: “It’s not simple to prepare the game in every aspect, then arrive to play the game and it’s postponed for strange reasons.

“Tottenham was dropped off the Conference League because the Premier League didn’t want to move the game against Leicester. After the request of Leicester, they postponed. But Tottenham was dropped by UEFA. This is very strange.

“In this situation there is a big disappointment for us, especially as we love football and worked a lot to try to play this competition. It’s very difficult to accept this decision.

“It was a big damage to Tottenham from the Premier League. You have to try to protect your team in Europe and they penalised us in a bad way.

“We are working and we like to do this, but I think they have to show respect for our job.”

Sky Sports News contacted the Premier League for a response to Conte’s comments and were referred to their coronavirus postponement protocols, which were agreed by the clubs last month.

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Micah Richards came out in defence of Arsenal after the postponement of the north London derby and said that they have done what any other Premier League team would do

More than 20 Premier League fixtures have been postponed due to player unavailability this season, leading to the likelihood of clubs needing to fulfil a backlog of fixtures towards the end of the campaign.

Conte believes this scenario undermines any claims that postponing fixtures is to protect players, saying: “I think if the Premier League decides to postpone games for injuries, it means they have to try to make a better schedule and reduce the games.

“Sometimes it’s very strange for me to listen about the welfare of the players. If someone has to think of the welfare of the players, you have to play less games and not every two or three days.

“Otherwise why do you speak about the welfare of the players? It’s only an excuse to tell something stupid.

“You protect the players to give them a rest, but if you want only to play, for sure you can’t speak of the welfare of the players. It’s very strange to me.”

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Merson: Too easy to get games called off

In his latest Sky Sports column, Paul Merson said: “As soon as Arsenal’s Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg at Liverpool was over, and Mikel Arteta said he would have to play Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Albert Sambi Lokonga in midfield in Sunday’s north London derby, I thought the game was bang in trouble.

“I did fancy Arsenal to win at Tottenham before all of the injuries and Granit Xhaka’s suspension, but not after that. I mean, who was going to play in midfield?

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Speaking last week, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher have their say on whether Premier League clubs should be allowed to call matches off due to Covid, injuries and the Africa Cup of Nations

“That said, I just cannot believe they got the game called off.

“These clubs have spent a lot of money on academy football, on giving young kids a chance. How would those players feel when the manager turns around and says he hasn’t got any players?

“I can understand if the cancellation is due to Covid, if there are 10 cases in the camp and players have to do the right thing and isolate. But when you’ve got one Covid case but you’re getting a game called off because you’ve got seven injuries? Come on. It’s becoming too easy to get games called off.

“In lockdown there was all this talk about the importance of the fans. Now they have called a game off so late. How many people will have travelled from afar and booked hotels to come to this big football match? There is no care for the fans.”

Lennon: PL table looking like a Sunday League table

Speaking on Sky Sports News, former Celtic boss Neil Lennon said: “I went through it a lot with Celtic last year – it’s very disruptive. You’re working day-to-day on things because one day a player is fit and healthy, then the next he’s coming in and testing positive. It’s very unpredictable.

“There are rumours going around that some Premier League clubs are using it to their advantage – that needs to be nipped in the bud if that’s the case.

“You know what happens with rules in football, you’ll always see people bend the rules to suit their own agenda. There’s no evidence of that, but there’s talk of it so there’s no smoke without fire for me.”

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Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers says he thinks the rules for deciding if Premier League games get postponed are clear

Asked about the fixture pile-up, the former Leicester midfielder said: “It’s horrendous. I’m looking at Burnley and they’ve played 17 games while other teams have played 21, so it’s almost looking like a Sunday League table!

“For Burnley, the amount of catch up they’ve got to do is going to bite in the second-half of the season.

“It’s not great and it’s not a great look for the league.”

What are the Premier League rules around postponements?

The 2021/22 Premier League handbook included Covid protocols and stated the Premier League’s board will “only permit the rearrangement or postponement of a league match in exceptional circumstances”.

The board make calls on a case-by-case basis, and by way of guidance the Premier League says permission for a postponement will not be granted if a club have 14 or more players from their squad list available.

However, after the postponement of a number of games in the weeks leading up to Christmas, a new Premier League guide explaining match postponement protocols was published.

And there, these factors are considered when deciding whether to postpone a top-flight game:

1) The impact of COVID-19 infections on a club’s squad, as well as injuries, illness and those isolating, and the number of players available on the squad list and any Under-21 players with appropriate experience. Where a club cannot field 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper either from its squad list or its appropriately experienced Under-21 players, the match will be postponed.

2) The status of any COVID-19 outbreak within a club, including the number of individuals affected, the sequence and source of infections and their proximity to the match in question.

3) A club’s ability to safely prepare its players in the lead-up to a match.

4) Medical advice as to whether there is any unacceptable risk to the health and safety of players and staff by playing the match.

5) Any advice from UK Health Security Agency and other public bodies.

6) Any other exceptional circumstances.

Which Premier League games have been called off?

Brighton vs Tottenham – Sunday December 12

Brentford vs Man Utd – Tuesday December 14 (now January 19, 8pm)

Burnley vs Watford – Wednesday December 15 and Tuesday January 18

Leicester vs Tottenham – Thursday December 16 (now January 19, 7.30pm)

Man Utd vs Brighton – Saturday December 18

Southampton vs Brentford – Saturday December 18; Southampton won re-arranged game 4-1 on Tuesday January 11

Watford vs Crystal Palace – Saturday December 18

West Ham vs Norwich – Saturday December 18; West Ham won re-arranged game 2-0 on Wednesday January 12

Aston Villa vs Burnley – Saturday December 18

Everton vs Leicester – Sunday December 19 and Tuesday January 11

Liverpool vs Leeds – Sunday December 26

Wolves vs Watford Sunday December 26

Burnley vs Everton Sunday December 26

Leeds vs Aston Villa – Tuesday December 28

Arsenal vs Wolves – Tuesday December 28

Everton vs Newcastle – Thursday December 30

Leicester vs Norwich – Saturday January 1

Southampton vs Newcastle – Sunday January 2

Everton vs Leicester – Tuesday January 11 (as above, this game had already previously been postponed from its original Sunday December 19 date)

Burnley vs Leicester – Saturday January 15

Tottenham vs Arsenal – Sunday January 16

Burnley vs Watford – Tuesday January 18 (as above, this game had already previously been postponed from its original Wednesday December 15 date)

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