Premier League’s return on June 17 holds more than just the title-clincher

Mathematically, the Reds either need two wins of their remaining 9 games or 6 draws to win the league

Liverpool is set to be crowned the English champions for the first time since 1990 | File Photo

No football club with a fan base as huge as Liverpool’s would be happy to resume the season behind closed doors. However, team manager Jurgen Klopp wants Liverpool supporters to prove themselves the best “stay at home fans in the world” after English police wanted any potential Premier League title-clincher for the Reds played at a neutral venue in a bid to avoid a mass gathering outside Anfield.

Premier League football is set to return on June 17 after a three-month coronavirus-enforced suspension.

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With only two wins needed out of the remaining nine games, nothing realistically will stop the Reds from being crowned English champions for the first time in 30 years.

Amid the drama of matches set to take place in empty stadiums, there are other major issues such as relegation and next year’s European places, which need to be resolved as the season resumes.

Liverpool to be crowned champions

For the first time since 1990, Liverpool is set to be crowned the English champions with their 25 points’ difference from the second position holders, Manchester City, on the points table.

Even as the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns across the world delayed the title party, nobody believes that Liverpool will not take home the league once the season resumes.

Mathematically, the Reds either need two wins of their remaining nine games or six draws to win the league. But they could be crowned champions as early as the first weekend of the restart if Manchester City loses its home game against Arsenal on June 17, which would technically close the chances for City to catch Liverpool from achieving the triumph, or if they beat Everton in a Merseyside derby.

Klopp’s men can also break two of City’s most cherished records — they need 19 points from the remaining 27 to beat the Manchester clubs total of 100 points from the 2017-18 season. And they could also better City’s record title-winning margin of 19 points from the same campaign.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson lifted the Champions League trophy in a packed stadium in Madrid last June, but is preparing for a different experience this year.

“Of course it would feel different because if you win any trophy and receive it without any fans there, it would be pretty strange,” he told the BBC.

Battle of top four or five?

In a normal scenario, the clubs finishing at the top four positions on the points table would qualify for the Champions League. However, City being banned from competing in Europe’s top club competition for the next two seasons due to financial fair play breach allegations, the battle could be among the top five teams.

Even as Pep Guardiola’s side have challenged the ban, if the decision is not overturned, whoever finishes fifth will take a place in the next season’s Champions League.

Currently, the top five positions are occupied by Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester, Chelsea, and Manchester United.

Manchester United currently occupy the fifth position, but Wolves and Sheffield United are both just two points behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team. Eighth-placed Tottenham and Arsenal, one spot lower, will also fancy their chances of finishing fifth with a late charge.

Relegation survival battle

Amid the world’s battle against the novel coronavirus and the top five clubs trying to assure their places in Champions League, there is another fight between the bottom three teams to retain their places on the table to be able to play the next Premier League season.

Norwich, Aston Villa, and Bournemouth occupy the bottom three places only to harbour hopes to escape the drop.

Norwich are rock-bottom and six points from safety, but a win at home to Leicester in late February gave them hope. With nine games remaining and first three to be away matches against the team in top six positions — Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City — it’s almost a game over for the club.

Villa on the other hand, after losing four straight games before the lockdown which could help them end the losing spree, have a game in hand over their rivals, while Eddie Howe will be desperate for Bournemouth to find some form after a run of seven defeats in 10 games.

Above the current bottom three, Watford are still in trouble despite their impressive initial revival under Nigel Pearson, while West Ham and Brighton are far from safe.

Before the last kick

Three months ago when the last ball was kicked, Manchester United were on top of their game with an unbeaten streak of 11 games in all tournaments to challenge the top four clubs for a Champions League berth.

Even as Arsenal had eight games in their kitty without a defeat, winning three in a row before the season was suspended, their form graph has been staring at a bleak future, while Burnley lost seven games to take the 10th place.

Meanwhile, the table toppers, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, which stands at eighth place, were heavily criticised for playing along the government’s scheme for absence of employees for their non-playing staff.

On May 27, the Premier League announced that there had been just 12 positive cases from a total of 2,752 tests since the players and club staff started being examined earlier this month.

Among those who produced positive findings in the first round of testing were Watford’s Adrian Mariappa and Burnley assistant manager Ian Woan.

Players to watch out for

Jamie Vardy’s goal-scoring form has contributed Leicester City’s charge for the top-four places. The 33-year old striker leads the Premier League Golden Boot race with 19 goals from 25 matches. He is followed closely by Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who has 17 goals from 26 matches.

Sergio Aguero has not been at his fluent best this season, but the Argentinian’s 15-goal haul for Manchester City has helped holders key wins.

Liverpool’s Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah is joint-third alongside Aguero, who will look to add to his tally as Liverpool stand arm’s length away from the title.

For Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, the return of captain Harry Kane will be a relief as they look to push for a top-four finish.

Same goes for Manchester United, who will have Marcus Rashford back in the team and see their topscorer combine with new signing Bruno Fernandez.

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