Coronavirus: Will Liverpool be handed the Premier League title?

What happens next in football - teams, players, trophies and fans

With English football now in lockdown, the authorities must now decide what happens to the climax of the 2019-20 season, and the vast implications that will have.

The Premier League and the Football League announced on Saturday that all games will be suspended until April 3 at the earliest. In reality, that date is unlikely to see a resumption, with the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom projected to be another 10-14 weeks away - the end of May or middle of June.

It means there will be a lot of head-scratching and anxious meetings, as the Premier League and the Football League decide what happens next, with every decision having to be taken while not knowing the extent of the pandemic and what that will lead to.

So what are the options for football? There are several, and none will please every team.

Void the season

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Controversial, but taking away the frustrations of an incomplete campaign, one of the easiest solutions to impose.

Call the season to a halt now, void the trophies, no relegation and no promotion, and start again for the 2020-21 season with the same clubs in the same divisions.

FA chairman Greg Clarke is known to have expressed his fear at Friday's emergency meeting that the season may have to be abandoned, and this would avoid the logistical nightmare of having to rearrange swathes of fixtures.

While it would be the simplest outcome to organise, it would also be desperately unfair on some clubs. Liverpool are potentially one win away from lifting their first top flight trophy in 30 years. They have a 25 point lead in the Premier League, the biggest in history. Is anyone rally going to deny Liverpool and their fans their deserved outcome?

Other complications would be created in the Championship. Leeds and West Bromwich Albion are looking likely to secure promotion, and taking that away would cost them potentially hundreds of millions in financial gains, and there's no logic that in a year's time they would again be the clubs in promotion places.

Likewise, the teams below them would be denied a shot at the play-offs and a late pass into the top flight.

For Norwich, Bournemouth and Aston Villa, it would be the perfect escape from relegation, though they would argue that with nine or ten games left they could still play themselves out of trouble.

Extend the season

LONDON,  - MARCH 13: A general view of the Emirates Stadium, home to Arsenal Football Club on March 13, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. It has been announced that all football league matches, including the Premier League and Womens Super League, have been postponed until at least April 3 in response to the threat of coronavirus. This follows UEFA's decision to suspend fixtures in the Champion's League and the Europa League, as many top flight players enter self-isolation.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

This is the outcome most fans and clubs would prefer. If the first weekend of April is unsuitable to resume, then the season would have to be extended anyway. The last round of Premier League fixtures is scheduled for Sunday, May 17, but with any sort of delay that is unlikely to be met.

Then there is the question of the FA Cup final the week after, and the promotion play-offs in the Football League. This is all due to take place before the European Championship starts on June 12.

One option being mooted is that the Euros are delayed for a year, leaving the domestic season in England and the rest of Europe the option to extend into the summer. There could even then be a late start to next season to accommodate a break.

This summer’s European Championship is under discussion by at an emergency meeting of European football stakeholders on Tuesday, and a postponement of the tournament is thought to be likely. This would allow the club season to continue into June and July – and potentially even beyond.

End now and dish out the honours

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There would be little resistance to handing Liverpool the Premier League trophy, but what of the other awards?

If it was decided the season had to be abandoned and impossible to complete in the summer, then this is the option other than voiding all the games that have been played so far.

However, that would deny many clubs a final push for promotion with so many games left. And those relegated before the normal conclusion of games would certainly consider legal action for loss of revenue that could take years to unravel.

One variation on this being considered is to award Liverpool the title, not relegate the three bottom clubs and allow promotion for Leeds and West Bromwich.

This would create a 22-team Premier League next season, with five teams relegated at the finish. It would solve some of the issues, but not all of them, with no option for a play-off promotion place.

And what about the fans, players and clubs?

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If the season does not get completed, football will be facing a headache on several fronts.

Firstly there would be the loss of revenue from the last nine matches in the Premier League, and similar in the Football League. The top flight clubs don't rely so much on gate income, but any financial hit for some smaller clubs could be critical. Then there will be the question of refunds for season ticket holders.

One other complication will be players' contracts. For those ending this season, they will only be signed up until June 30 and if football goes beyond this date there will be serious employment law issues.

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