The shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to hang over football. Not only is the game still being played without fans in attendance but travel restrictions are creating a logistical minefield as the European competitions resume.
With countries closing their borders to try and prevent the spread of coronavirus and, in particular, new and dangerous Covid strains, a number of fixtures have been moved to neutral countries.
But often restrictions on travellers from one country to another is not reciprocated and also a country may ban visitors from a certain country but not others.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side will travel abroad for both legs of their last-32 Europa League tie with Benfica in just one example of the Covid chaos in European competition
The Puskas Arena in Budapest will host both Liverpool and Manchester City’s last-16 games
It’s all creating a complicated and ever-changing picture as the clubs affected and UEFA scramble to locate suitable venues for fixtures taking place, in some cases, next week.
And for some of the Premier League participants, it’s going to mean significantly more travelling that originally planned, causing further wear on players already dealing with a hectic schedule.
Here’s the latest situation with regards the English clubs affected in both the Champions League and the Europa League.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE LAST-16
RB Leipzig vs Liverpool
First leg; February 16 at Puskas Arena in Budapest, 8pm UK time kick-off
Germany has clamped down hard on travel from countries affected by new variants of Covid-19, including the United Kingdom.
The German interior ministry told Leipzig that an exception couldn’t be made to allow the Liverpool team into the country to play next week’s first leg.
Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool aren’t allowed into Germany to face RB Leipzig and so will play next week’s first leg game in Budapest
So the game has been moved to the Puskas Arena in Budapest, which means an increase in air miles from 1,324 for the round trip to 2,090 for the Reds.
It’s not an enormous increase for Jurgen Klopp and his side but a slight inconvenience with the first leg tie sandwiched between important Premier League matches against Leicester City and Everton.
Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea
First leg; February 23 at Arena Nationala, Bucharest, 8pm UK time kick-off
Chelsea have received confirmation on Wednesday that the first leg of their last-16 tie with Atletico has been switched from the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid to the Romanian capital Bucharest.
That’s because Spain cut travel links to Britain back in December because of fears about the new Covid strain spreading in the UK.
Chelsea will play the first leg of their Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid in Romania
The Arena Nationala in Bucharest has been chosen as the alternative venue for the last-16 tie
Spain is also on a ‘red list’ of countries drawn up by the UK government, which means the Chelsea squad couldn’t travel there without quarantining on their return or a special exemption.
So UEFA and the clubs have moved the first leg to the Arena Nationala in Bucharest, which means over a thousand miles more travel in the round trip.
It’s a 1,568 mile round trip to Madrid but 2,600 miles to Bucharest, which is hardly ideal when Chelsea have a crunch clash with Manchester United a few days later.
Borussia Monchengladbach vs Manchester City
First leg; February 24 at Puskas Arena in Budapest, 8pm UK time kick-off
Manchester City will find themselves at the Puskas Arena in Budapest eight days after Liverpool’s visit and for the same reasons.
The German authorities wren’t prepared to grant City an exemption amid fears of new Covid strains getting into the country.
Manchester City’s Champions League’s tie with Monchengladbach will be played in Budapest
And so City face the prospect of almost three times as much travel as they head to Hungary rather than Germany. 796 miles has become 2,034.
The game comes in between a trip to Arsenal and a home match against West Ham for Pep Guardiola’s men, who, in fairness, look like they can handle anything at the moment.
EUROPA LEAGUE LAST-32
Benfica vs Arsenal
First leg; February 18 at Stadio Olimpico in Rome, 8pm UK time kick-off
Second leg; February 25 TBC
The first leg of Arsenal’s tie with Benfica has already been switched from Portugal to Rome but the second leg of the last-32 match is completely up in the air.
Arsenal can’t play the first leg, which is next Thursday, in Portugal because it is on the UK Government’s ‘Red List’ and the players and staff would have to quarantine on their return.
To get around these restrictions, the game will be played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. That’s actually less travel for Arsenal – 1,782 miles compared to 1,970 to Lisbon.
The Stadio Olimpico, in Rome, will host the first leg in which Benfica will be the home team
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta will want some clarity soon on where the second leg will be played
However, Benfica also cannot travel to London for the second leg and so an alternative venue must be found for the game on February 25, meaning the Gunners will be ‘homeless’ in the whole tie.
It had been decided that Olympiacos’ Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium would stage Arsenal’s ‘home’ leg but those plans will be revised after Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced Athens will be entering a new lockdown until the end of the month.
We await confirmation on where this second leg is moved to.
Olympiacos’ Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium had been announced to host Arsenal’s ‘home’ leg but this will have to be changed because of a new lockdown in Athens
Real Sociedad vs Manchester United
First leg; February 18 at Juventus Stadium in Turin, 5.55pm UK time kick-off
For the same reasons as the Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea tie, Manchester United cannot make the trip to play Real Sociedad in Spain because they’d have to quarantine on their return.
So to get the game played, Sociedad had to give up home advantage and the first leg match next week has been switched to the Juventus Stadium in Turin.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United are off to Turin next week to play Real Sociedad
United played in Turin a couple of seasons ago in the Champions League and beat Juventus 2-1 there.
It’s a very slightly longer trip for the Reds at 1,462 miles all-round to 1,404 to San Sebastian.
Molde vs Hoffenheim
First leg; February 18 at Estadio de la Ceramica in Villarreal
One other tie not involving English clubs has been moved. The first leg of the match-up between Norwegian side Molde and German club Hoffenheim will be played in Villarreal, Spain.
That’s because the Norwegian authorities have prohibited travellers from Germany coming in.
However, the curiosity is that Spain, which has imposed tight restrictions on other countries, would allow two teams from two different nations to play on its soil.