LONDON: Covid-hit Chelsea were held to a goalless draw by Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday after the Premier League rejected their request to postpone the game as Manchester City put struggling Newcastle United to the sword.
Just four games were left on the schedule this weekend out of the original 10 as Britain’s worsening coronavirus crisis took its toll on the Premier League.
Clubs will meet on Monday to discuss what action to take, with growing questions over the integrity of the competition as the busy festive period looms.
Stumbling Chelsea, who have struggled with illness and injuries in recent weeks, were only able to name four outfield players on the bench for their match at Molineux.
The visitors, who have now won just two of their past six league games, enjoyed the bulk of possession but mustered just one shot on target and are now six points behind leaders City.
Thomas Tuchel was without Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who have all tested positive for Covid-19. Jorginho, Kai Havertz and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were also not in the squad.
Chelsea earlier confirmed that their request to have the game called off been turned down.
The European champions’ request is understood to have been rejected because the Blues were deemed to have had enough players to fulfil the fixture according to Premier League regulations.
“We did ask to postpone the game,” Tuchel confirmed before kick-off. “We thought we had a strong case regarding the security and the health of the players.
“We have seven positive cases and every single day we’ve had another positive case coming in. We travelled together for three hours on the bus, we are in meetings together, we have lunch and dinners together. The situation does not feel like it will stop.”
Defending champions City crushed Newcastle 4-0 to confirm their position at the top of the table at Christmas.
Eddie Howe’s side shot themselves in the foot in just the fifth minute, when calamitous defending handed City the lead after goalkeeper Martin Dubravka had carelessly conceded a corner.
The defence only half-cleared and Joao Cancelo hooked the ball back into the six-yard box. Newcastle appeared to be in little danger but Ciaran Clark inexplicably chose not to make a simple headed clearance and Ruben Dias headed the loose ball into the net.
The home side rallied and Joelinton went close to equalising with a stinging shot from distance that flew just wide of Ederson’s right-hand post.
But City silenced the passionate crowd at St James’s Park shortly before the half-hour, when Cancelo jinked his way past Joe Willock and Isaac Hayden before smashing a right-footed shot past the helpless Dubravka from the edge of the area.
City maintained their firm grip on the match in the second half, with Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling doubling their lead.
Pep Guardiola’s City have now won eight league games in a row to move four points clear of second-placed Liverpool, who were in action at Tottenham Hotspur later on Sunday.
But relegation-threated Newcastle remain three points from safety having now played two games more than Watford, who are just outside the drop zone.
In the only Premier League match to take place on Saturday, injury-hit Leeds United slumped to their second alarming loss in five days, 4-1 at home to Arsenal.
The match was marred by an allegation of racial abuse from a spectator toward Arsenal’s players. It was reported to officials by Arsenal, manager Mikel Arteta said.
Coming off a 7-0 thrashing at City on Tuesday, Leeds were down to nine senior players and with a 15-year-old on the bench amid an injury crisis was ripped apart in the first half as Gabriel Martinelli scored twice and Bukayo Saka added another.
Leeds lost another player, Jack Harrison, to injury before halftime and manager Marcelo Bielsa had his head bowed as he walked back to the dressing rooms, with his team having allowed 15 shots on goal in a chaotic display.
The home side was better organized in the second half and managed a consolation when Raphinha converted a penalty after 19-year-old striker Joe Gelhardt was tripped by Ben White.
Substitute Emile Smith Rowe’s 84th-minute goal, after he was played through by Martin Odegaard, piled on the misery for Leeds, who are five points above the relegation zone having played three games more than third-to-last Burnley.
Arsenal consolidated fourth place in the race for Champions League qualification and is four points above fifth-placed West Ham United having played 18 of 38 games.