London: Unless the Premier League fixture list is further decimated by the Covid-19 surge that has ripped the pre-Christmas schedule to shreds, the three-way title race will continue on Sunday with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all in action.
City, who lead the table by a point, travel to relegation strugglers Newcastle United, while second-placed Liverpool visit Tottenham Hotspur, who have had their last two league games postponed because of infections.
Third-placed Chelsea, who were deprived of three players because of Covid-19 in their 1-1 home draw with Everton on Thursday, are first up at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Whether all or any of the games go ahead as planned, however, is a matter of some doubt.
The league has ruled out a ‘pause’ to the season to allow clubs to recover their squads, although the surging Omicron variant has put paid to half of the weekend’s fixtures including Manchester United’s home game with Brighton & Hove Albion.
Aston Villa, who have also reported infections, are still scheduled to host Burnley on Saturday with Leeds United also in action against fourth-placed Arsenal in the late kickoff.
Despite the distractions and uncertainty, the title rivals will be keenly aware that the season is reaching a crucial phase and any slip-ups now could prove extremely costly.
Not that champions City look remotely flustered, having put seven goals past Leeds United on Tuesday.
If any squad can cope with the current strains it is Pep Guardiola’s at City. With quality options in reserve, they are beginning to accelerate at just the right time having won their last seven league matches.
Six players were on target in the 7-0 win against Leeds, with Kevin de Bruyne striking twice, and Newcastle’s creaky defence will not be relishing City’s visit on Sunday.
Liverpool kept up the pressure at the top as they came from a goal down to beat Newcastle 3-1 on Thursday, despite having Virgil Van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones missing because of positive COVID tests on the day of the game.
Juergen Klopp said he “hoped” the Tottenham game would go ahead but did not sound too optimistic. “It’s a really tricky situation. Nobody knows exactly how we’ll be tomorrow,” the German said on Thursday.
“I’ve never had three players on matchday pull out. The most important thing is because the boys are vaccinated they will not feel it really. That’s good. We have to wait for them.
“Should we stop the league? I have no real answer for it. If you stop it for two weeks and we come back, I really don’t know what to do. There are plenty of questions we need to find answers for but I don’t have the solution.”
Chelsea’s surprise home draw with Everton left them four points behind City and Thomas Tuchel’s side face a tough task at Wolves, who sit eighth after a midweek win at Brighton.
Asked if the title race should be put on hold while the protagonists deal with COVID infections, Tuchel said he did not want to get involved in sports politics.
“We are all worried about Covid, it is close to us, we had four positives. Other games get cancelled, ours didn’t. If they decide we have to play we play,” he told reporters.
Saturday, December 18
Manchester United vs Brighton & Hove Albion -postponed
Southampton vs Brentford -postponed
Watford vs Crystal Palace -postponed
West Ham United vs Norwich City -postponed
Aston Villa vs Burnley (7 pm UAE)
Leeds United vs Arsenal (9.30)
Sunday, December 19
Everton vs Leicester City -postponed
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Chelsea (6 pm)
Newcastle United vs Manchester City (6.15 pm)
Tottenham Hotspur vs Liverpool (8.30pm)