By Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
Chelsea may be forced to leave any players not vaccinated against coronavirus at home for the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Lille in March.
France has toughened its Covid rules and there is now no exemption for unvaccinated professional athletes wishing to enter the country.
European football’s governing body UEFA released a statement on Thursday morning saying that teams would be required “in principle” to abide by applicable rules in any country.
UEFA is yet to publish its updated regulations for the knockout phases of its three men’s club competitions, which it says will provide “further guidance”.
French president Emmanuel Macron has previously stated he wants to “p*** off” unvaccinated people by limiting their access to public places such as bars, cinemas and restaurants.
It seems unlikely UEFA – whose president Aleksander Ceferin has emphatically stated his support for vaccination – would undermine the French approach by insisting on matches being moved to a neutral venue to get around the rules.
Any unvaccinated Chelsea players or staff are therefore expected to be treated as though they have tested positive for Covid, and be barred from travelling for the second leg on March 16.
The Premier League is consulting with clubs over changes to the Covid-19 postponement criteria in the wake of falling case numbers among clubs and in the wider population.
Clubs are expected to meet next week to discuss amendments to the rules, and they could be in place for the first Premier League fixtures in February.
However, Norwich boss Dean Smith insists the regulations should not be changed mid-season.
“We’re looking at the rules now and we’re saying they’re not fit for purpose, but they are the rules for this season,” he said.
“I don’t think we should be allowed to change them during the season. There have been 21 postponements, each case heard on an individual basis by the Premier League. For me, that should continue until the end of the season, then they look at it and change whatever rules they need to at the end.”