Aston Villa are preparing to field a team of youngsters in Friday’s FA Cup third-round tie at home to Liverpool after a “significant” Covid-19 outbreak at the club.
A final decision on whether the game will take place at all will be made on Friday.
Villa manager Dean Smith, his coaching staff and the rest of the club’s first-team squad will not be involved after the outbreak forced the closure of the club’s Bodymoor Heath training headquarters on Thursday.
The club is in discussions with the Football Association and want to fulfil the fixture (kick-off 19:45 GMT) but final confirmation on whether the tie is played is still on hold pending the results of further testing on the young players who are now being considered for selection.
Mark Delaney, Villa’s under-23 coach, is scheduled to take charge in the absence of Smith and his backroom staff. He will be accompanied by a doctor, physiotherapist and kit staff.
The game was thrown into doubt when Villa confirmed the shutdown of the training ground after “a large number of first-team players and staff” returned positive Covid-19 results after being tested on Monday.
Those affected went into isolation and a second round of tests was carried out immediately, which produced more positive results on Thursday.
Villa are keen to play the game against Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League champions, who they thrashed 7-2 earlier this season. Manager Smith had planned to rest several stars for the game but the Covid-19 outbreak has thrown the club’s plans into chaos.
They will now be hoping the additional Covid-19 testing returns a clean bill of health with Villa liaising closely with the FA in the hope of getting the game played on Friday night.
The meeting between in-form Villa and Liverpool is one of the most attractive ties of the third round, even if both managers were set to field unfamiliar line-ups.
It also remains to be seen whether Villa’s scheduled Premier League home game against Tottenham Hotspur at Villa Park on Wednesday goes ahead.
Elswhere, Southampton’s FA Cup third-round game against Shrewsbury on Sunday was called off on Thursday after a significant number of Shrews players and staff tested positive for coronavirus.
Wayne Rooney and Derby’s first-team squad will miss their FA Cup tie at Chorley on Saturday following a Covid-19 outbreak which closed their training ground on Monday.
The Rams’ team for the game at Victory Park will be made up of under-23 and under-18 players.
Villa will be doing all they can to ensure Friday’s tie goes ahead but the Covid-19 outbreak could also have Premier League ramifications.
Villa are scheduled to face fourth-placed Spurs at Villa Park on Wednesday and they currently stand only three points behind Jose Mourinho’s team.
There must now be question marks over whether that game will take place.
If the game is off it will only add to the fixture congestion both clubs are likely to face in an already crowded calendar this season.
Villa, even though they planned to leave out several established first-team players against Liverpool, still had high FA Cup ambitions and would have wanted to maintain the momentum that has given them such an impressive start to the season after only surviving in the top flight on the final day of last season.
They will hope the latest testing brings no further complications in the FA Cup context – then attention will turn to what has the potential to