Neil Humphreys: Covid will rule Man City out of title race
Positive cases and lack of training are unfair disadvantages
This season will have an asterisk after all. It will be remembered as the one where Covid-19 defeated Manchester City.
Whoever lifts the English Premier League title may be lumped in with Allan Wells, one of those rare winners with a caveat.
Wells was the last white man to win the 100m gold at the Olympics as he prevailed at Moscow 1980, when the Americans boycotted the event.
Similarly, the club least affected by Covid-19 could win the EPL title.
Perhaps Liverpool are destined to retain their domestic crowd whatever the circumstances, but it's reasonable to claim that the pandemic is doing its utmost to rule out Pep Guardiola's band of positive cases.
This season was never going to be a level playing field. Those with the biggest squads were always the best equipped to handle fixture congestion.
So the virus seems to have taken it upon itself to redress the balance by infiltrating City's dressing room. Their fixture at Everton was postponed yesterday morning (Singapore time), in a belated bid to stop the runaway virus.
Good luck with that. On the same day, the UK reported 41,385 new cases, a daily record. The UK death toll is expected to rise rapidly in the New Year.
So the bleating of Everton supporters and City's rivals smacks of staggering ignorance.
First, City's bubble has been seriously compromised. Millions of pounds were spent on the latest tech, regular testing and strict transport protocols to ensure the safest environment.
And still, the virus found a way.
Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker tested positive and missed the Boxing Day clash against Newcastle United. Then, "a number of" other positive tests followed.
City's training ground is now closed. Training is off and many players are in isolation. More positive cases are expected.
But the conspiracy theorists complain that the postponement didn't follow the guidelines. According to EPL rules, matches should go ahead if a team have 14 available players, although decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis.
In this case, there was only one decision to take.
Of course City had enough fit footballers, but the sense of entitlement from those insisting that the fixture had to go ahead is frightening.
That's the word used by the only man qualified to pass judgment.
He's a coaching rival. And yet, Steve Bruce's response was empathetic and alarming.
The Newcastle manager described the situation for his coronavirus-infected players as "frightening". Since an outbreak inside the club, the Magpies have won just once in five games.
Jamaal Lascelles and Allan Saint-Maximin are still suffering from the long-term effects. Bruce has no idea when they'll return.
When he speaks of the symptoms, he sounds like a bad horror movie writer. Vomiting, sores, mouth ulcers, no smell, no taste, no energy and exhaustion are warnings from recent history, a message from one shocked manager to another.
When Bruce heard of Guardiola's predicament, he expressed his concern. If City's positive cases reach double figures, he said, then any hope of consistency is gone.
Does that feel right? Is this professional football or a series of Survivor? Forget the "outwit" and "outplay" bits. Just outlast with the fewest Covid-19 cases.
City must now rearrange their fixture against Everton. Their upcoming clash against Chelsea on Monday morning also hangs in the balance. Even next week's League Cup semi-final against Manchester United is doubtful.
Three games are difficult to reschedule in normal circumstances, let alone in the current dystopian farce masquerading as reality.
Even if an unlikely miracle transpires and every other staff member tests negative, then Guardiola has less time and fewer players to work with.
Ilkay Guendogan, Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte took weeks to recover from Covid-19 in September. Guardiola has more cases this time around.
His season has come to a shuddering halt, thanks to Covid-19. That's bitterly unfair.
Injuries are fair. Suspensions are fair. Even dodgy VAR (video assistant referee) rulings are fair. They are begrudgingly accepted as intrinsic features of the sport, equally applicable to all.
But Covid-19 is poised to effectively rule a leading contender out of the title race. And that's an unsporting scenario because it has absolutely nothing to do with sport.