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What does the Premier League suspension mean for Liverpool's title hopes?

Sports Mole looks at how Liverpool's title challenge and other clubs could be affected by the postponement of all top-level football in England.

The Premier League announced today that all matches have been postponed until April 4 at the earliest due to escalating concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

The move was considered overdue by many, with other top European leagues such as La Liga and Serie A having already taken such precautions, while the Champions League and Europa League have also followed suit.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta yesterday became the first high-profile member of a Premier League club to confirm that he had tested positive for COVID-19, while Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi has also contracted the virus.

The postponement of all top-flight matches - in addition to games in the EFL, women's football and at international level - raises questions over where the 2019-20 campaign goes from here, and whether it will be completed.

Liverpool could be one of the many teams affected with a first league title for 30 years now potentially in jeopardy, and here Sports Mole looks at how the decision might impact Jurgen Klopp's side, amongst others.

Will Liverpool be awarded the title?

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp pictured on February 29, 2020© Reuters

The truth is, we do not know yet.

There are much bigger concerns at play, of course, and this decision finally puts public health before the relatively unimportant matter of who is the best football team in England.

However, the Premier League's intention as things stand is to reschedule the games which have been affected by this ban, including Liverpool's Merseyside derby against Everton at Goodison Park, "when it is safe to do so".

The current plan is to resume domestic football on April 4, although it remains to be seen whether that gives enough time for the spread of the virus to slow down, particularly after health experts warned that the peak may not happen for some months yet.

Perhaps the biggest frustration for Liverpool fans will be that the title, which has become their holy grail in the 30 years since they were last crowned champions, is so tantalisingly close - just two more wins, or a six-point swing to Manchester City, would be enough to wrap things up.

Indeed, that could have happened this weekend had Man City lost to Burnley and Liverpool then beaten Everton on Monday night.

Liverpool could still only be one game away from being crowned champions, though; the weekend on which Premier League football is now scheduled to return sees Liverpool face Man City at the Etihad, and victory for the Reds there would wrap up the title.

Klopp's side are not far away from clinching the title should the season resume, then, and with a 25-point lead over Man City it is the coronavirus, rather than the potential of them suffering a dip in form, which raises the biggest question mark over their coronation.

Has anything like this ever happened before?

Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring for Liverpool on March 7, 2020© Reuters

Not quite like this. It is an unprecedented situation and so there is no specific example to look back on in the past to discover what the Premier League might do this time around.

The closest is probably the 1939-40 football season, which was abandoned due to the outbreak of the Second World War. On that occasion Blackpool led the way when the league was called off, but they had only played three matches of the campaign and therefore no champions were crowned.

Liverpool have just nine games of their season remaining and it appears nigh-on impossible that they will be caught, so the two situations are likely to be viewed very differently by the authorities.

There is also the matter of prize money which plays a much bigger role now than it did in 1939, and that is particularly true going down the football pyramid.

When could matches be rearranged for?

Liverpool's Joe Gomez in action with Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the FA Cup on January 5, 2020© Reuters

Of course, the whole situation remains shrouded in uncertainty regarding how COVID-19 will behave. We do not know if warmer weather will help to slow the spread or how long the virus will be a major problem for.

If it behaves in a similar way to other viruses, such as influenza or other recent pandemics, then experts have suggested that the warm weather could have a positive impact on its escalation, and therefore it could be that the season is completed during the summer months.

It looks increasingly likely that Euro 2020 will be postponed for at least one year, which should free up the summer for clubs to complete their duties, although that would of course have a knock-on effect for the 2020-21 campaign and beyond.

There is also no guarantee that large gatherings will be safe by the time the summer comes around, and the longer the postponements go on for, the more likely complete cancellation becomes.

However, one obscure precedent of sorts comes from Uruguayan football, when the 1933 season was not completed until November 18, 1934 - one week before the 1934 campaign ended - due to a series of postponements and abandonments of their title decider.

What about promotion and relegation?

Leeds United's players celebrate Tyler Roberts' goal against Hull City on February 29, 2020© Reuters

This is perhaps the most compelling reason for the 2019-20 season to be completed, and the reason why the footballing authorities will be viewing abandonment of the campaign as their final, nuclear option if they are left with no other choice.

Liverpool's title hopes will be the headline in terms of clubs affected by this, but for teams fighting relegation and battling for promotion the need for the season to be completed is even greater.

The Championship playoff final is the richest match in football and it would take extreme circumstances for the EFL to take that prospect away from those clubs in the mix at the moment, not to mention Leeds United - on the brink of returning to the top flight after 15 arduous seasons - and West Bromwich Albion in the automatic playoff places.

Similarly, just four points separate 15th from 19th in the Premier League table and the difference between survival and suffering relegation can shape the fortunes of a football club for a generation, sometimes even longer.

These margins are magnified even more in the lower-leagues, where the loss in ticket revenue should the matches not go ahead could very well result in a number of historic clubs going out of business - a catastrophic possibility for football in England.

European football could also be affected - there is a fascinating battle for the top four unfolding in the Premier League, while the cancellation of the season could rob the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United from earning Champions League football next term.

What are the options if the season is cancelled?

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer inside the stadium before the match on March 12, 2020© Reuters

Should all else fail and the season be abandoned then a series of complicated and no doubt controversial discussions would be due to follow.

One option, considering how far into the campaign we are, would be to end the season with current positions counting. While this would probably seem to be a sensible decision at the top of the table with Liverpool so far clear, a host of clubs further down are likely to take exception to it.

Under that scenario Wolves and Sheffield United would miss out on the Champions League - with the latter having played one game fewer than the teams immediately above them - while Bournemouth and Aston Villa would be relegated. Villa also have a game in hand which, if they win, would lift them out of the bottom three, while Bournemouth are only in the relegation zone by virtue of having a goal difference one worse than Watford.

In the Championship, Leeds and West Brom would be promoted and the third promotion spot would presumably go to third place should the playoffs not happen, which would mean that Fulham join them in the top flight.

The other option would be to void the season and start again from scratch for 2020-21, although then more questions follow as to which teams go into next season's Champions League and Europa League and how the parachute payments will be sorted if a relegated team has invested heavily only to be denied promotion.

There could also be the possibility of cancelling at least one of the cup competitions for 2020-21 in order to allow the league campaign to take place over a shorter period of time and the 2019-20 season to be completed when the early months of 2020-21 were due to take place. This would certainly not be an ideal option, but it seems preferable to league cancellation.

All in all, the unprecedented nature of this problem means that a lot of guesswork is needed at this stage regarding what might happen in the wake of the suspension of top-level football. The cause itself is unpredictable, which makes finding a solution even more difficult.

At this stage it is public health which is by far and away the most important thing, though, with footballing matters set to be put on the back-burner for the foreseeable future.

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