PSG’s abbreviated championship season, mean for title-chasing Liverpool

Maybe Liverpool fans shouldn’t be so worried after all. 

Long-suffering Reds supporters found their hearts in their throats last week following word that the Dutch Eredivisie would not award its title to Ajax, which had been leading the league when the coronavirus pandemic forced it to shutter in mid-March, along with every other major sports league on the planet.

Their fear was that the Eredivisie’s decision could create a precedent that would lead other leagues to simply void their 2019-20 season, too, in the event that the end of those campaigns could not safely be completed in empty stadiums over the summer. 

That anxiety only intensified on Tuesday, when France’s Ligue 1 also announced that it would scrap the rest of its campaign, a decision that was effectively made for them when the French government extended restrictions on sporting events until September, just like their counterparts in the Netherlands had done the week before.

Could Liverpool, which dominated this Premier League season like no team ever had and was on the verge of clinching its first domestic English title since 1990, really be robbed of the trophy that everyone associated with the club — from charismatic German manager Jurgen Klopp to academy players down to rank and file fans — wanted even more than the Champions League crown they captured last year? That seemed wildly unfair. It also seemed frighteningly possible. 

Then came Thursday’s news that the Ligue de Football Professionnel, or LFP,  had named Paris Saint-Germain its 2019-20 champion based on points-per game over the first 75-percent of the schedule. And just like that, Klopp and Co. had been handed a lifeline.  

The Premier League is still a ways away from cancelling its remaining slate, to be sure. The world’s most popular sports enterprise is hell bent on doing anything possible to satisfy its obligations to sponsors and broadcasters and complete its season as late as August. It’s certainly not going to pull the plug on its own.

The problem is that Prem executives don’t have any real control over when they can kick off again. Like their fellow suits in France and the Netherlands, they are at the mercy of health and government officials both at the local and federal levels. The cold hard truth is that at best, it’s as likely that they’ll have to cancel the season eventually instead. 

Thanks to the LFP’s decision, there’s now a precedent for using common sense to determine what happens next. “In the event that a domestic competition is to be prematurely terminated for legitimate reasons,” president Aleksander Ceferin, president of European soccer governing body UEFA wrote last week in a letter to 55 member countries, leagues would have until May 25 “to select clubs for the UEFA club competitions 2020-21 on the basis of sporting merit in the 2019-20 domestic competitions.”

Leaving up to the individual leagues themselves is the right thing to do. Circumstances can differ dramatically from place to place. The logical course of action in one country won’t necessarily be the same as in another. 

In the Netherlands, not awarding Ajax the title was fair. The 34-time national champs were tied on points with AZ Alkmaar; only goal difference separated the two. Who knows how the rest of the season would’ve played out? Crowning a winner in Italy, Germany or Spain — which along with England comprises global soccer’s four elite domestic competitons — would also be difficult, as the teams near the top of those leagues are separated by just a few points.

That wasn’t the case in France, where PSG held a 12-point advantage over Marseille. Only a monumental collapse would’ve prevented the Parisians from securing their ninth title (and seventh in the last eight years) this Spring. The title race was even more of a foregone conclusion in the Prem. If the end of the season can be played, it would be possible for Liverpool to finish first without winning any of their remaining nine matches, such is the advantage they’d carved out. 

And if they can’t play those games? These Reds still would have earned the right to be called champions, same as PSG.

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