UEFA have released their latest update on measures, advice and guidance to see the 2019/20 season through to completion as best as possible in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, although concessions are now starting to creep in to acknowledge it may not be possible.
There are already growing concerns that the Premier League will struggle to finish, with the United Kingdom notably several weeks behind other European countries in terms of what stage of the crisis it is currently at as the virus didn’t properly arrive until later.
This is what UEFA’s latest stance actually means…
There Is No Pressure
While UEFA obviously want domestic seasons across Europe to be properly concluded so as not to cause potential problems in terms of qualifying for 2020/21 European competitions, the governing body is not putting additional pressure on any national association to have to finish.
It is made extremely clear that football comes second to public health and that the safety of anyone involved should not be compromised under any circumstances.
So while UEFA ‘urges’ that every member association explore ‘all possible options’, there is no escaping the fact that ‘the health of players, spectators and all those involved in football as well as the public at large must remain the primary concern at this time.’
It’s Up to Individual Leagues/Countries
If a domestic league cannot fully complete the 2019/20 season by playing all remaining games without compromising safety or defying orders from its own national government – as would be the case in the Netherlands where all public events are banned until September – it will be up to the particular national association to decide how to proceed.
The most important thing to UEFA is that entrants into European competitions in 2020/21 gain their place through ‘sporting merit’. In other words, picking the top few sides from each country in the current UEFA club coefficient rankings, which is based on several years worth of averages and does not necessarily reflect current achievements, won’t cut it. Sorry, Arsenal fans.
There could be a few ways that seasons might be satisfactorily concluded if not all remaining games can be played. While completion of all games in the ‘original format’ is the ideal, UEFA suggests that countries could restart in a different format to reach the elusive ‘sporting merit’.
That will be for each league to decide as appropriate.
If no more games can possibly go ahead, the domestic league or national association in question would have to choose its European qualifiers for next season based on ‘sporting merit’ that uses ‘objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles’.
One suggestion in the event of no more games is that ‘points per game’ could be used to decide things. That would have notable appeal in any leagues where teams have played more or less games than others, including the Premier League.
UEFA are specifically concerned about European qualification, but if a national association is applying a different format to remaining games, or turning to a ‘points per game’ scenario, to determine things at the top of the league, they could – and it would be fair to do so - employ the same measures at the other end of the table to sort out relegation.
Voiding Is Off the Table
Cancellation that would see league seasons completely voided, as has happened lower down the non-league pyramid in England, appears to be pretty much off the table now in light of the overall flexibility UEFA have provided.
If a national association decides its league season cannot continue at all and must be ended prematurely, UEFA’s focus on ‘sporting merit’ one way or another will determine final positions and negate the need for a total voiding.
More to the point, voiding the season would eliminate all possible ‘sporting merit’ as if all results up to the moment of suspension are declared null there would be nothing to base it on.
Liverpool Will be Champions One Way or Another
With no voiding, Liverpool look as though they will be crowned 2019/20 Premier League champions, whether the season actually resumes or not.
Either the Premier League season resumes in due course and they win the games they need to; a shortened or reduced format is brought in and they win the games they need to; or the season ends prematurely and they are awarded the title on ‘sporting merit’ through points per game.
The only scenario that would see Liverpool not get their hands on the Premier League trophy this season is if the campaign resumes and they suddenly lose every game.