Liverpool better hope that the English Premier League won’t take its cues from the Dutch Eredivisie.
Along with officially cancelling the remainder of its 2019-20 season on Friday, the top soccer league in the Netherlands also announced that first-place Ajax would not be awarded its 35th domestic title and that no clubs would be relegated to or promoted from the country’s second tier. Despite playing around 75 percent of its schedule, the season is void. It’s as if it didn’t happen at all.
The decision ought to send shivers down the spine of every long-suffering Liverpool fan. For while European soccer’s governing body UEFA has consistently expressed its desire to have leagues complete their seasons later this summer, there’s still no telling if that’s going to be possible.
Originally, the Eredivisie also intended to finish up its slate before being effectively forced to cancel when the Dutch government extended its ban on mass gatherings until Sept. 1. If heath officials elsewhere follow suit, and there is no way that other countries’ seasons can be completed, leagues will have some hugely consequential calls to make.
It’s even possible the UEFA would recommend — if not require — a uniform approach. And if a critical mass of other important leagues decide that they, too, shouldn’t have champion or promotion/relegation this year, Premier League executives would surely feel pressure to do the same. It’s possible that Eredivisie's decision not to crown a champion for 2019-20 could create a domino effect that robs Liverpool of its first English triumph in three decades.
That would be extraordinary cruel for Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s team led the Prem by a whopping 25 points when the league went dark in March. Barring anything short of the current global calamity, the Reds’ first English crown in 30 years was a forgone conclusion. That’s a far cry from the case in the Netherlands, where Ajax led second-place AZ Alkmaar only on goal difference.
Europe’s other elite leagues are all closer to the Eredivisie than the Prem. Four points separate the top three teams in the German Bundesliga. In La Liga, Real Madrid trails Barcelona by two points. It’s even closer in Italy, where Serie A-leading Juventus is just one point up on Lazio.
The obvious injustice that would be inflicted on the Reds hasn’t stopped calls for the Premier League to void its season in the event that it can’t be contested in its entirety. Liverpools rivals don’t seem to particularly care that Klopp and Co. would be so disproportionately impacted by such a decision.
Voiding the Prem would have other repercussions. With just 21 points from 29 games, cellar-dwelling Norwich City doesn’t deserve to avoid the drop. Once-mighty Leeds United, pacing the second-tier English Championship and on course to return to the Premier League for the first time since 2004, would be forced to start from scratch next season. Leeds might not come that close again for a decade or longer. Same goes for West Bromwich Albion, which had also all but secured automatic promotion this spring.
No matter how you slice it, it’s not going to be fair to everyone. Friday’s decision means that in the Dutch second division, table-topping Cambuur and De Graafschap will now miss out on promotion (and the influx of TV revenue that comes with it) through no fault of their own. Similar situations are bound to play out in other leagues, one of the reasons case-by-case considerations make sense.
After their season for the ages was interrupted, Liverpool’s championship dreams could well depend on it.
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