LIVERPOOL, Manchester City and Arsenal all face playing European games on neutral territory this month.
Uefa have confirmed that matches that cannot be played in their scheduled locations because of Covid-related protocols must be moved to neutral venues.
That means that Arsenal and Benfica must agree on a third country to host both legs of their Europa League last 16 clash – unless the Government lifts its “red list” of countries by next Monday.
But the newly-approved regulations covering the knock-out phases of their two competitions, which begin later this month also impact on City and Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp’s Anfield outfit are due to travel to Leipzig for their last 16 first leg clash on February 16, with City due to play at Borussia Monchengladbach eight days later.
But while German clubs can travel to the UK as long as they remain in elite Covid-secure bubbles, there is no reciprocal arrangement.
German concern at the mutant strains of the virus in the UK means travel from England is effectively banned except for specific cases and the Government said: “Currently there is no special arrangement for professional athletes.”
That adds another layer of uncertainty to the remainder of the European programme, with one short-term option being Uefa intervening to switch the home venues of the first leg matches involving Liverpool and City to England.
But it seems certain that Arsenal will play both legs against Benfica on neutral ground – with the preferred option of staging the games in Germany now OFF the agenda.
While travel corridors do exist within Europe, the new border restrictions for the 33 “red list” nations – which include Portugal – have no exemptions for elite sports.
It means Benfica’s travelling party would have to begin their 10-day hotel quarantine in the UK by Sunday.
That is infeasible, while Arsenal would also have to go into Government-approved accommodation for 10 days from February 25 after the away leg of the tie.
But while Uefa state that “as a rule, matches are played at the UEFA approved venue of the home club” there is dispensation for change where “restrictions imposed by the national/local authorities could result in the match not taking place as scheduled”.
The deadline for confirming whether Arsenal can host the tie, or is 11pm next Monday.
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Uefa ruled that Arsenal are under obligation to “propose a suitable alternative venue which may be in a neutral country” within Uefa where the match can “take place without any restrictions for both clubs”.
If Arsenal cannot do that – the Gunners are responsible for covering all the costs of the rescheduled game – they would “be held responsible” and forfeit the game 3-0.
But with similar border restrictions facing the Gunners after the away leg, Uefa also make the same demands on Benfica for the second part of the tie.
Uefa would prefer the chosen venue to be a “Uefa-approved” stadium being used in this season’s competition.
Euro chiefs can overrule the clubs’ choice of stadium and could, if necessary, order the tie to be played as a one-off game in a neutral venue of their choosing.
Uefa chiefs have also reiterated Covid protocols for clubs in the two competitions that are struck by an outbreak of the virus.
If clubs have 13 or more players available, the match must be played as scheduled – unless all goalkeepers on the club’s books are ruled out.
If a club has fewer than 13 available, or no keepers, Uefa will allow a postponement if the match can then be rescheduled before specific cut-off dates for each round, with March 5 the first Europa League deadline and April 2 the final date for the last 16 ties of both competitions.
But with the March international break lasting the final 10 days of the month, there is little wriggle room to fit in games that cannot be played, leaving the clubs deemed responsible facing 3-0 forfeits.