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Premier League prepares for Covid summit as Man City show class

By AFP
19 December 2021   |   8:09 pm
Coronavirus forced the postponement of a swathe of Premier League games this weekend but for leaders Manchester City it was business as usual.

Manchester City’s English midfielder Raheem Sterling (2nd R) celebrates with teammates after scoring their fourth goal during the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Manchester City at St James’ Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, north east England on December 19, 2021. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)

Coronavirus forced the postponement of a swathe of Premier League games this weekend but for leaders Manchester City it was business as usual.

Pep Guardiola’s men hammered Newcastle 4-0 in one of only four games to take place, while Liverpool lost ground with a 2-2 draw at Tottenham.

Chelsea also stumbled again, held 0-0 by Wolves at a foggy Molineux, but Arsenal continued their recent resurgence, crushing Leeds to press their credentials for a top-four finish.

AFP Sport picks out three talking points from the action in the English top-flight.

Covid crisis
Premier League clubs are meeting on Monday to discuss the fast-escalating Covid-19 crisis, which threatens to derail the season.

Managers have called for clarity on the criteria used to call off matches, with growing concerns over the integrity of the competition.

Manchester City has already played three games more than Tottenham, who had a two-week break before Sunday’s home fixture against Liverpool.

The Premier League last week said it intended to “continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible” as calls for a circuit break intensified.

But that was before a series of fresh postponements left the weekend programme looking threadbare.

Covid-hit Chelsea asked for their match at Wolves on Sunday to be postponed, a request that was turned down by the Premier League, leaving manager Thomas Tuchel frustrated.

The Premier League has a huge call to make during the busiest time of the English football calendar.

Is Premier League a two-horse race?
Until recently it looked as though Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea would be locked in an absorbing three-way tussle for the Premier League title.

But Chelsea now find themselves six points behind defending champions City, who have won their past eight league matches.

Second-placed Liverpool had a chance to close the gap to just one point after coming from behind at Tottenham to lead 2-1 but Son Heung-min snatched a late equaliser.

Recent Premier League seasons have been characterised by an absorbing head-to-head battle between City and Liverpool, who have both set standards that nobody else can match.

It seemed as though Chelsea had joined that elite group after winning the Champions League in May but they are now looking shaky, with a coronavirus outbreak and damaging injury list taking their toll.

The draw at Wolves means they have won just two of their past six games in the Premier League as their rivals have hit top form.

Newcastle struggles
Eddie Howe started his Newcastle reign relatively brightly but recent results make grim reading.

The Magpies have now conceded 11 goals in their past three matches against Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester City and remain three points from safety having played two games more than Watford, who are one place above the drop zone.

Newcastle did not make their job any easier at St James’ Park on Sunday by gifting City the opening goal with some woeful defending in their 4-0 win.

The club’s wealthy new Saudi owners will almost certainly invest significantly in the January transfer window and the deals made could make or break their season.

The entire campaign could hinge on their run of fixtures early in the New Year, with games coming up against fellow strugglers Southampton, Watford, Leeds and Everton.

If they do not find form, one of the world’s wealthiest clubs could be playing in the second-tier Championship next season.