This is the question on the lips of most football fans around the globe. Of course, the preferred option is not actually a choice here. Finishing the season is undoubtedly the ideal scenario, but with the Eredivisie, and now Ligue 1, among the European leagues to bring their domestic campaigns to a premature end, such a dream is now looking increasingly unlikely.
Furthermore, the desirability for the season to be finished decreases the longer the wait for football to return goes on. Playing the remaining 92 games has long been billed the one fair way to determine the Premier League title, Champions League positions and relegation to the Championship. However, models to do this now include games being played at a far increased rate than they were scheduled, in different venues, perhaps even in a different country.
Moreover, the longer delays persist, the more the conclusion of this season will disturb the beginning of the next calendar year of football, which includes the already rescheduled European Championships. With a winter World Cup also on the horizon, the beautiful game will be played at times unfamiliar to all of us in these next few years, already in altered formats.
The appetite to add to this confusion surely must be small, for it is the consistency with which we assess the game’s greats that makes their glory comparable. Are you truly the best in Europe if you have won a shortened Champions League? Do you deserve to be relegated if you have played fewer games in your own stadium than some of your competitors?
Now, clearly, with four sides farcically having been allowed to play a game less than the other 26, the current Premier League standings must, under no circumstances, be allowed to be final. However, simulating the rest of the season is equally unfair, no matter which model is deployed.
Football Manager and Opta may have produced state-of-the-art predictive technology, but their chances of being used by the Premier League is non-existent and is merely for the fun of us supporters.
More likely is the points per game extrapolation method used in the aforementioned French league. However, this itself has led to a legal challenge from Lyon and would likely produce the same result in England, for it fails to consider the relative ease of each team’s remaining opposition, nor the volume of their remaining home advantages.
Counter-acting this would be a system that replicates the results in the reverse fixtures earlier in the season. This would lead to Watford’s relegation in place of Bournemouth in the previous scenario. Still, this only negates the first issue, with the lack of thousands of home support a glaring issue in teams’ success.
Of course, most astute readers will point out that this will not be tackled by playing games behind closed doors. This is true. However, I am sure that none of you feels that these models, which systematically guess the remaining results, can be in any way fairer than actually playing the 92 games left, irrespective of the adapted format in which this is done.
Ever since 1995, the Premier League table has been decided with each team having played 38 games. The challenge to remain competitive over such a long period is the essence of this competition. For some sides, more than a quarter of the campaign has yet to be played. Even Derby, the Premier League’s statistically worst side, had not been relegated at this stage.
Who is really to say how the season would have ended, aside from the teams themselves? With international commitments fast approaching, there is only so long the league can feasibly be postponed.
Therefore, although I, like many others, would not complain too loudly if sides were rewarded for their fine efforts. I genuinely feel that if this Premier League season cannot be completed, the table should be voided, with European places decided by the last completed season. Yes, it neglects the unprecedented success of a historic Liverpool side, along with the underdog heroics of Sheffield United. The Premier League trophy would not come to Anfield, nor would European nights find their way to Brammall Lane.
Alas, it would be the least unfair of a multitude of unjust options. All teams should, of course, be entitled to 29/38ths (or 28/38ths) of the prize money they have rightfully earned, but that should be it, for the integrity of the best league in the world must be upheld.
Would Liverpool have won the league? Almost certainly. However, that ‘almost’ could, and I believe should, lead to one of football’s greatest injustices, for any title awarded before it has been 100% earned is a sham trophy. As little consolation as it may to their many dedicated supporters across the globe, I would refer them to a statement that they have become unfortunately associated with in years gone by. “There’s always next year.”