COVID: Liverpool-Arsenal semifinal off, Messi now negative

Sports

Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp gives instructions to his players during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Liverpool at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

A coronavirus outbreak among Liverpool’s players and staff led to the team’s match against Arsenal in the English League Cup semifinals being postponed Wednesday, adding to the backlog in English soccer caused by the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The English Football League, which runs the cup competition, approved a request from Liverpool for the game to be called off because of a slew of positive tests at the club that has led to the closure of its training ground.

Player availability had already been impacted because of injuries and absences for the African Cup of Nations, which is depriving Liverpool of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita.

The first leg that was scheduled to take place at Arsenal on Thursday will now be staged at Anfield on Jan. 13. The second leg will take place at Emirates Stadium on Jan. 20.

“The league has accepted Liverpool’s request after determining, albeit reluctantly, that a postponement was the only option,” the EFL said, “as the club looks to mitigate against the further risk of infection amongst its squad and staff alongside ensuring public health was protected by not traveling from Liverpool to London.”

Liverpool thanked Arsenal and the EFL for their understanding “as we continue to navigate through this challenging period.”

Pepijn Lijnders, the assistant coach who has been filling in for Jurgen Klopp while the Liverpool manager is in isolation, was one of “multiple players and staff” who tested positive for COVID-19 in the latest round of checks on Tuesday, the club said.

The latest wave of positive tests prompted the club to shut its first-team training facilities on Wednesday after consulting with public-health authorities. Practice was canceled on Tuesday, too.

Some clubs have previously had to forfeit games in the competition because of a virus outbreak in their squad. Competition rules state that games called off because of COVID-19 can be rearranged to be played no later than the start of the following round, which meant Liverpool had until Feb. 27 — the date of the final at Wembley Stadium — to fit in the two legs of the semifinals.

The English game has been majorly disrupted by the coronavirus, with 18 Premier League games postponed in recent weeks because of outbreaks in squads. Other major European leagues have been on planned winter breaks, with their teams starting to return to training and encountering problems of their own.

Burnley, which is in the Premier League’s relegation zone, is four games behind in the league this season — three of them because of COVID-19 outbreaks in opponents’ squads that led to matches being canceled, twice on the day of the game.

FRANCE

Lionel Messi returned to France from Argentina after testing negative for the coronavirus and will rejoin the Paris Saint-Germain squad in training in the “next few days,” the club said.

But PSG defender Layvin Kurzawa has tested positive and is now isolating. The French league leader’s next game is at Lyon on Sunday.

GERMANY

Friday’s Bundesliga game between Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach is in danger of being called off because of the number of coronavirus-infected players.

“At the moment we have 10 outfield players and two goalkeepers (available). So we’re thinking about how we can play the game and have discussed the matter with the German soccer league,” Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić said.

The Bavarian club on Wednesday reported that Canada winger Alphonso Davies is the latest player to test positive for COVID-19, bringing the club’s current number of confirmed cases among players and staff to 10.

“He’s doing well. He’s self-isolating at home,” Bayern said of Davies.

Leroy Sané, Dayot Upamecano, Manuel Neuer, Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso, Lucas Hernández, Tanguy Nianzou and Omar Richards, as well as assistant coach Dino Toppmöller, were already in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.

Under new rules agreed to by the clubs at the start of the pandemic, the German soccer league can approve a request to call off a Bundesliga game if one of the teams has fewer than 15 available players, including at least one goalkeeper.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl said Wednesday that Bayern wanted to postpone Friday’s game, but he assumes it will go ahead, a view shared by Salihamidžić.

“It looks like we’re going to play, and then we’ll also go into the game to win it,” the Bayern sporting director said.

Gladbach also has players in quarantine with the virus.

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