Unvaccinated Chelsea players could be barred from featuring in the Champions League match vs Lille
The Guardian has reported that Chelsea may find themselves unable to field any players yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Lille in March. In such a scenario, the Blues may be forced to leave some of their top players at home for the away clash against the Ligue 1 champions.
Chelsea finished runners-up in their Champions League group to Italian giants Juventus, setting up a round of 16 tie against Lille. However, from recent reports, it seems that the defending champions may not be able to field their full squad in the second-round clash against the French side.
On Thursday, the governing body UEFA said that teams would be required “in principle” to abide by applicable rules in any country amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Given this statement, it would appear that the Blues may have no other choice or alternative but to face the consequences of France’s COVID regulations.
France are very strict with their Covid rules and have not granted any exemption for unvaccinated professional athletes wishing to enter the country. The French government is even seeking to limit the access for unvaccinated people to public places such as bars, cinemas and restaurants.
The English club is sure to appeal against this decision and try to work around these restrictions, but the Blues may have to be prepared to go to France with a relatively thin squad. As of December, it was reported that 16% of top-flight players in England remain unvaccinated.
Any move for matches being played at a neutral venue to bypass the rules seems unlikely, as UEFA will not likely undermine the French government’s approach. This may hold true, especially since UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has always been vocal regarding his support for vaccination.
Just go with it!
Although it is not clear how many players in the Chelsea squad may face the prospect of missing out on the Champions League, Blues coach Thomas Tuchel will certainly be fretting on yet another obstacle in his way this season. This season, Chelsea has already seen injuries and Covid cases within the squad derail their Premier League title challenge.
Apart from this, we also seem to be suffering a massive dip in form, having gone winless in the league for the past few gameweeks. Tuchel pointed out that our players seem to be suffering from fatigue of late, given the intense schedule the players have had to navigate around.
With more competitions and matches to be played with hardly any recovery time in between, this news of unvaccinated players being denied entry in France comes when morale in the camp already seems low. Our squad is already stretched thin with the injuries we’ve suffered since the tail end of last year, and with the recent French regulations, we may be forced to send some overworked stars into action against Lille, with squad rotation being a bleak possibility.
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Players cannot be forced to get vaccinated. However, with recent regulations denying entry to unvaccinated people and not providing exemption to athletes, stars may have no other options but to get the jab to continue to compete and represent their sides in crucial competitions and clashes.
One cannot fault the French authorities for their stance either. Novak Djokovic found out the hard way earlier this month that being a top sportsperson does not mean he can navigate around a country’s laws. There is little reason to believe Chelsea will be afforded that luxury. We might as well get on with it.
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