Aston Villa’s FA Cup tie with Liverpool on Friday night is expected to go ahead but Wednesday’s Premier League game against Tottenham is in doubt after an outbreak of coronavirus in the first-team squad.
Villa are set to be without their entire first team, along with boss Dean Smith and assistants John Terry, Craig Shakespeare and Richard O’Kelly, as they are isolating.
It means the Premier League side will be relying on their U23s and U18s, who were all tested for the virus on Thursday, for the tie to go ahead. Results are being fast-tracked so the club can know by Friday lunchtime.
Villa’s U23s coach Mark Delaney will take charge of the team, if the game goes ahead.
Sky Sports News has been told that Villa’s hierarchy are hopeful the youth players are clear of the virus.
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Villa have always segregated a “red zone” within the Bodymoor Heath training ground since the return to play in summer, where only members of the first-team bubble are allowed; it has remained cordoned off to the junior teams.
This is why there is optimism that those younger players have not been exposed to the outbreak, which has been described to Sky Sports News as “rampant” within the first-team squad.
It is thought the outbreak is much more extensive than it was with Fulham and Newcastle earlier this season.
As a result, Villa cannot use any players or staff from the first-team bubble for tonight’s game – including physios, medical staff and the kit man.
Why can Villa play Liverpool but Spurs game is in doubt?
There is a feeling among Premier League clubs that there would be an issue with the integrity of the competition if Villa were forced to field a side of youth-team players against Spurs on Wednesday.
However, the time constraints with FA Cup scheduling mean there is very little flexibility to reschedule games, especially with the fixture list already congested as it is.
Any postponed match would have to take place before the fourth round in just two weeks’ time.
No club will automatically have to forfeit an FA Cup game if they are affected by coronavirus, with each case to be assessed by the FA on its individual circumstances, Sky Sports News understands.
The FA has told clubs taking part in the FA Cup third round they should field a team if they have at least 14 fit players, which can include youth-team players, as they seek to avoid a fixture pile-up.
PL records season-high 40 cases over last two rounds of testing
Villa’s positive cases come after the Premier League confirmed a season-high 40 positive coronavirus results were recorded following two rounds of testing between December 28 and January 3.
Fulham have had two games postponed due to Covid – against Burnley and Tottenham – while the December 28 match between Everton and Manchester City was called off four hours before kick-off due to a number of positive cases in the City camp.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche confirmed at his media briefing on Thursday that the club has “a couple of cases” after their most recent screening.
Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor has said players will be reminded not to hug their team-mates during goal celebrations following a spate of coronavirus cases across the leagues.
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