Europe’s big leagues look to get rolling
As many suspended football leagues across the world attempt to resume their seasons in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, two among the world’s biggest on Thursday announced plans to do so from next month. While the Premier League is set to resume on June 17, Italy’s Serie A will go ahead later that weekend after a green light from the government on Thursday. England and Italy’s top-flights will follow Germany’s Bundesliga, which has already resumed, and Spain’s La Liga, to lift the season suspension and continue with the remaining games of the season this summer. La Liga will resume on June 11 with the local derby between Sevilla and Real Betis, the government’s department for sport said on Friday.
With Thursday’s big announcements in England and Italy, France’s Ligue 1 becomes the only ‘Big Five’ domestic league in Europe to announce a premature end to the season.
Given the money involved, especially from TV rights, it was only a matter of time that some of Europe’s biggest leagues would resume seasons, behind closed doors, at the earliest opportunity. But while off-field financial matters have had a big role in these resumptions, what will be at stake on the field when the Premier League and Serie A resume?
LIVERPOOL’S DATE WITH DESTINY
Before the pandemic brought everything to a halt, the story of the 2019/20 Premier League season was about Liverpool’s dominance.
The Reds steamrolled opposition week in, week out, and were just a maximum of six points away from clinching their first league title in 30 years.
Jurgen Klopp’s side that won the Champions League last season was well on its way to becoming the most dominant team ever in a single season of the Premier League. With 25 points more than second-placed Manchester City, despite playing a game more than Pep Guardiola’s side, Liverpool are still on course to notch the biggest points tally in a Premier League campaign and also win the league by the biggest ever margin. The Reds’ title chase and the reaction to their impending triumph in Merseyside will also be key to Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’. Following Thursday’s announcement, it has been reported in the British media that police authorities want some of the games—including those involving Liverpool and City—to be moved to neutral grounds in order to avoid large public gatherings outside Anfield whenever the Reds seal the title.
The police’s demand could see the Merseyside derby, Liverpool’s games against Crystal Palace and City, among other games, moved to neutral grounds.
It is only natural that Liverpool’s date with destiny this summer will continue to be at the centre of the 2019/20 Premier League storyline. But there are a few other interesting stories developing lower down the table – most notably, the race to the European places and the relegation battle.
EUROPEAN PLACES AND RELEGATION
With Man City’s Champions League ban from next season, a fifth place finish will be enough for other teams to secure a place in Europe’s elite competition in 2020-21. As things stand, Liverpool are some way away at the top of the standings with 82 points from 29 games. But as one scrolls downward, the table starts getting a bit congested. City, with 57 points from 28 games, are four points ahead of third-placed Leicester City (29 games).
Leicester seem prime candidates to grab one of the Champions League places. But the fight for the remaining spots is tighter. Fourth-placed Chelsea (48 points) are three points ahead of Manchester United, who are a further two points ahead of Wolves and Sheffield United. Tottenham (41 points) are ahead of ninth-placed Arsenal by only a point.
The Gunners themselves have Burnley and Palace behind them by a point. The 12th-placed team, Everton (37 points), are arguably also in contention for, at the very least, a Europa League spot. Of all these teams placed fourth to 12th, Sheffield and Arsenal have played a game less than the others.
On the other hand, the bottom six teams in the league are involved in a close battle for survival. Norwich, with 21 points, are in a spot of bother, but Aston Villa (25 points), Bournemouth (27 points), Watford (27 points), West Ham (27 points) and Brighton (29 points) are also in vulnerable territory. Villa have a game in hand, against Sheffield on June 17, and will hope to win that to climb out of the red zone before the weekend.
In Italy, the initial epicentre of the pandemic in Europe, Serie A was witnessing one of its most thrilling title races in many years before the season was suspended. Lazio (62 points), on a 21-game unbeaten run in the league, were just a point behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus, who were chasing a ninth straight title.
Powered by Ciro Immobile’s 27 Serie A goals, Lazio remain very serious title contenders as the league eyes resumption. With Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan (54 points) having lost ground on Juventus after an initial start to the campaign, Italy’s top-flight looks to be a two-horse race. Inter can, however, close the gap with Juve to just six points if they win a remaining game in hand.
Atalanta (48 points) look prime candidates to take the remaining Champions League spot, although Roma are only three points behind having played a game more. As far as relegation is concerned, Brescia (16 points) and Spal (18 points) are unlikely to survive the drop. But at least six teams –Lecce, Genoa (25 points), Sampdoria (26 points), Torino (27 points), Udinese (28 points) and Fiorentina (30 points), are in danger of finishing in the remaining relegation spot.