Conte fumes after PL reject postponement plea

Clubs

Antonio Conte has said Tottenham‘s mounting fixture pile-up could be responsible for the Premier League rejecting the club’s request to postpone Thursday’s game at Leicester City and warned his players are at greater risk of injury after contracting COVID-19.

Spurs were forced to close their training ground last week after a severe outbreak as at least nine players and multiple staff members returned positive tests.

Tottenham’s UEFA Conference League match against Rennes and last weekend’s league game against Brighton were called off as a result.

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Sources have told ESPN that Spurs subsequently asked for their game against Leicester to be moved to allow them space to rearrange their clash with Rennes, which UEFA are insisting needs to be played before the end of the month.

Spurs are already facing major fixture congestion given last month’s away game at Burnley was also postponed due to heavy snow and Conte told a news conference: “For me, it is very difficult to speak about this topic.

“For sure, the Premier League didn’t want to postpone the game against Leicester, maybe because we have to play against Burnley and Brighton. We postponed two games before. I can understand, we can understand.”

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers also confirmed they asked to rearrange Thursday’s game after reporting nine players absent through either illness or COVID-19. The Premier League judges each case on a game-by-game basis and sources have told ESPN that other clubs have had requests rejected both this season and last.

Spurs are facing the prospect of being knocked out of the Europa Conference League given they need to beat Rennes in their final Group G home match to secure a play-off place against Rapid Vienna for a place in the round of 16.

Sources have told ESPN that during discussions, Spurs have offered to play the game in France if it would help find a solution.

“On the other hand, I think we deserve to play our chance against Rennes to go to the next group,” Conte added. “We don’t find a good solution between UEFA and Premier League, why Tottenham has to pay for this? It’s not fair we have to pay for a situation that isn’t our fault? I understand if we did something wrong but in this way, for the club, the players, the staff, it’s very difficult to understand what’s happening.

“Last week was terrible. It was terrible because the government decided — I also think in the right way — to close our training ground and stop our training sessions.

“On Wednesday, I had a press conference and I said it was very difficult to speak about football today. And then we had Thursday, Friday, Saturday without training sessions. But Sunday the government reopened our training centre and we started again to work with not many players because we also had problems with Under-23s. We started with 13 or 14 players.

“But today we had training with 16 players and more young players.”

Spurs fully re-opened the first-team areas of their Spurs Lodge training base on Tuesday but with the situation slowly improving, Conte’s fears over COVID-19 are giving way to what he believes is the prospect of injuries arising from the 10-day isolation period.

“For sure, some players tomorrow, they can’t play,” Conte said. “Players are back in training and today two players are back in training for the first time. And yesterday another player. But as you know well, they need to be fit to play. Tomorrow I’ll put these players on the bench for 15-20 minutes at the end. They have in their legs 20 or 25 minutes to play with us.

“I think is the big problem that we must be [prepared] to face in the future. To bring these players affected by COVID to be fit and avoid injuries. This could be the big problem in the future, not the 10 days.

“After 10 days you have players available but then you have to pay attention to the way to train, whether the body is ready to work in a good way. You have to pay attention, moderate the training to avoid injuries. This is the big problem, not only for Tottenham but for other clubs with COVID-hit players.”

Meanwhile, sources have told ESPN that Manchester United‘s game against Brighton, scheduled for Saturday, remains in doubt.

Tuesday’s trip to Brentford was postponed after the club were forced to shut down first team operations at their Carrington training base on Monday.

Around 17 first team players including Cristiano Ronaldo and David de Gea returned to Carrington on Wednesday to undergo further rounds of testing and take part in training sessions and conditioning work.

Sources have told ESPN that United are continuing to liaise with the Premier League about the status of the squad and while the club have not submitted a request to postpone the meeting with Brighton, the situation will be assessed on a day-to-day basis.

Information from ESPN’s Rob Dawson was included in this report.

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