Chelsea boss says game going ahead put players’ health and safety at ‘huge risk’

Thomas Tuchel has criticised the Premier League for putting Chelsea at “huge risk” by forcing the coronavirus-hit Blues to play Sunday’s top-flight clash at Wolves.

Chelsea were missing seven players through positive Covid-19 tests and opted not to risk Jorginho at Molineux after inconclusive results for the Italy midfielder.

The Blues saw their request for a postponement rejected, and could only field 14 outfield players in their match squad with N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Trevoh Chalobah also struggling for match fitness.

Six of the weekend’s top-flight fixtures had already been called off following Covid outbreaks at various clubs but the Blues’ game went ahead as scheduled.

“I understand everybody when they say you have 14 players,” the German said.

“But if you look into detail: Trevoh Chalobah has only had two training sessions, Mateo Kovacic one training session and N’Golo Kante one training session.

“We were put in a huge risk of health and safety to the players, not just because of Covid but also physically.

“I’m not sure if I’ll catch Covid. Hopefully I will not catch it.

“We put Kova into a Premier League match on the second day after a Covid infection. OK. If you count this as 14 available players to play in the Premier League, in the toughest league in the world, OK. It’s like this.”

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A frustrated Tuchel has no idea what will happen with Chelsea’s fixtures against Brentford and Aston Villa next week.

“I’ve got no idea what happens now,” he said. “We had an idea (on Saturday evening) what’s going to happen, but then that didn’t happen.

“We will do tests, continue to test and go to training like we have been doing.

“We as a club have been very, very responsible.

“Now we will sit on the bus for three or four more hours together. And (on Monday) we will do training, do the testing and wait for the results.”

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Chelsea – Premier League – Molineux
Thomas Tuchel cut a frustrated figure at Molineux (Nick Potts/PA)

Asked if Chelsea could close their Cobham training ground to try to limit infections, Tuchel said: “How can we close the training ground when we are allowed to keep playing?

“We have now two days and we cannot close the training ground. How should that happen that we send everybody home? The decisions are the decisions.”

After Manchester City’s 4-0 win at Newcastle on Sunday, boss Pep Guardiola said he would back the Premier League to make the right calls.

“When the doctors, the scientists, the Premier League or whatever take a decision, I will support 100 per cent,” he said.

“We try to create a good environment for our people, our players, the staff and backroom staff to realise the danger is still already here and you have to be alert.

“We have to try knowing that it’s not easy because it’s not (just a) problem for the Premier League or the football world, it’s a problem worldwide that’s still out there.

“The virus is still out there, the new variant is there and what the Premier League is going to decide, we are going to support.”

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Liverpool’s preparations for their match at Tottenham were hit by the emergence of another Covid case in Thiago Alcantara. Jordan Henderson also missed out through illness, but tested negative for Covid.

Virgil Van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones also missed out having tested positive earlier in the week.

After a difficult week, the protocols surrounding postponements in cases of coronavirus outbreaks are set to be discussed at a Premier League shareholders meeting on Monday.

The league has been considering applications on a case-by-case basis but there has been criticism that the criteria is not clear enough. The timing of decisions to call off some games has also caused frustration.

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All clubs are expected to be represented at the virtual meeting for senior club representatives. It is understood further calls for managers and captains are likely to take place later in the week.

The issue of vaccination uptake among players is also expected to be discussed in a meeting likely to be dominated by Covid issues.

The English Football League published figures this week stating 25 per cent of its players did not intend to get vaccinated.

The Premier League is planning to update on its own players in the near future but a number of leading figures in the game, notably Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, have urged players to get jabbed.

Leeds managing director Angus Kinnear has pointed out there could be consequences for those who do not.

Leeds players on the pitch
Angus Kinnear said that the vaccination rate at Leeds was “99 per cent” (Mike Egerton/PA)

Kinnear wrote in the Sunday Times: “While everyone I have encountered in the game believes in the sanctity of vaccination being a personal and free choice, it seems inevitable that players who decline a vaccine and are unable to ply their trade effectively will begin to face broader and more punitive consequences – as are being felt across the rest of society.”

He added that the vaccination rate at Leeds was “99 per cent”.

Meanwhile, the EFL, which has also been hit by a raft of postponements, says it is maintaining constant open dialogue with all clubs over the situation.

At present, the league is planning for all four Carabao Cup quarter-final ties to go ahead as scheduled this week.