Tottenham's head coach Antonio Conte
Tottenham's head coach Antonio Conte Image Credit: AP

And so on we roll, heads down and teeth gritted, grimly determined to reach the other side, wherever and whenever that might be found. The Premier League had planned to stage a full card of games on Boxing Day, but as you read this, its best hope is still just to get through as many of them as it can. In midweek, it will try to do it all again, and then, after ringing in the New Year, once more for good measure.

That is the plan, anyway. Nobody truly believes it will play out like that. Last weekend, the EPL lost more than half its schedule to COVID outbreaks. At least one more match, Chelsea’s visit to Wolves, took place despite a request from Chelsea to postpone it because of a rising case count. On Thursday, it lost two more.

The chances that every single one of the 30 top-flight games stuffed into England’s holiday season would be completed were always slim. There will be more contagion, more positive tests, more players self-isolating, more games cancelled on short notice, more fans left suddenly adrift in unfamiliar town centres, facing an empty afternoon and a long journey home.

But as far as the league and its constituent clubs could see, there was no other choice. When they sat down virtually on Monday to discuss how - and if - to proceed, they had three options. One was to play on. One was to reduce the workload from three games in a week to two. The other was to shut down, indefinitely, until the Omicron surge abates.

Instinctively, it is easy to assume that the Premier League has done what it always does: followed the money. Boxing Day - and the rest of what is contractually known as ‘the busy festive period’ - is in many ways the centerpiece of English football’s calendar. It functions as a test of nerve as much as a test of strength. It is when contenders separate themselves from also-rans, when the outline of the season’s conclusion begins to be mapped out.

And although it is a tradition England cherishes and its rivals envy - the Premier League’s success is the reason that Italy’s Serie A, in recent years, has toyed with the idea of playing games the day after Christmas - it is also lucrative broadcasting.

Not just because there is a captive audience at home, waiting to be sold things in commercial breaks, but because much of the rest of life - even in times less strange and unnerving than this - is on hold. The Premier League, football as a whole, gets to be just where it likes to be: front and centre, the only show in town. Ultimately, it was never going to vacate that slot, not voluntarily.

But that reading is, in truth, a little unfair. Neither of the available alternatives could be considered a right answer. Shutting down indefinitely - an idea that attracted no advocates in that virtual meeting - might feel like the moral choice, but it is not something that has been asked of any other industry. It also raises the question of how, precisely, you start again.

There was more support for easing the burden, for allowing each club to postpone one of its three fixtures. Liverpool, among others, spoke in favor of that in private, just as its manager, Jurgen Klopp, has done in public. A couple of days later, the Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson, made the valid point that nobody seems to have thought about asking the players what they want to do.

The counterargument, though, was not without its merits. The Premier League is already facing a severe backlog of games - both Tottenham and Burnley have played three games fewer than some of their rivals - and there is a distinct shortage of space to fit them back in. Adding another whole round of games to that would create a logistical headache.

The problem with the Premier League’s decision to push through as best it can, commanding that any and every club with enough uninfected players to fill a team and the requisite number of substitutes must play on, cancelling some games but continuing with others, is that it adds an extra - and perhaps excessive - level of competitive distortion.

Tottenham, without question, will suffer for having to make up the three games they lost to its COVID outbreak. There will be busy weeks in the spring, and fatigue may weigh heavy. But will they suffer more than, say, Chelsea, who had to play on despite the fact that their manager, Thomas Tuchel, made it very plain that he felt he did not have enough players?

Do Tottenham not now have a better chance of winning those games than they would otherwise? And what would a team such as Leeds make of that, given that they have a far-longer list of absentees but has had to endure simply because they had not - at least until Thursday - been missing because of Covid?

There is, again, no correct answer here, although there are other solutions available. Perhaps clubs should be made to play on - unless they cannot guarantee the health and safety of the opposing team - with whatever group of players they can cobble together? That is the usual sporting punishment for missing players, as Leeds is busy discovering.

Or perhaps, as is the case elsewhere, they should be punished for failing to fulfill their fixtures, for not adhering to the coronavirus protocols well enough? Maybe each team that cannot complete a game should just suffer a 3-0 defeat? And yet that, too, is hardly an advertisement for fairness.

And so the Premier League has done the only thing it can think of: to hit and hope, to assume that when it emerges from the thick fog of winter there will be something on the other side. What shape it will take, what difference it will have made and what damage it might have done are questions that can wait for later. Until then, it will do what it has always done, plowing on regardless, into the current.