In the alternate universe where things are "normal," Liverpool is enjoying its Premier League title parade this week. Perhaps the ride wrapping around from Allerton Maze to the waterfront along The Strand would have already occurred. Either way, the Reds would've been at least 24 hours removed from the conclusion of the Premier League season, their drought-ending trophy confirmed weeks prior.
Of course, in the actual universe, Liverpool has for two months been looking with varying levels of anxiety at a table that reads, from its perspective, as a foregone conclusion. Jurgen Klopp's men may not be Invincibles, but they surely are title-worthy. Two wins away from a first top-flight domestic title in 30 years, Liverpool's only true threat rests in the forthcoming rulings of executive bodies, who have seen their counterparts around Europe react in different fashions to the coronavirus pandemic and the many complications it has entailed.
There's the Netherlands's Eredivisie, which neglected to crown a champion and suspended relegation, but honored European places after cutting its season short. There's France's Ligue 1, Belgium's Pro League and Scotland's Premiership, which also called their seasons off but crowned champions, honored European places and relegation.
Then there's Germany's Bundesliga, which continued across nine stadiums behind closed doors from this past Saturday to Monday. In the coming days we'll learn of any setbacks as it relates to the coronavirus, and if there are any, how the league and clubs implement their protocols to prevent a greater outbreak and keep things controlled. Of any league in the world right now, the Bundesliga presents as the most likely one to succeed, following the leadership of its local and national government and taking the proper precautions. Whether it's replicable elsewhere remains to be seen, but the other leagues–including the Premier League–are watching.
"The Germans are a couple of steps ahead of us obviously and we can learn from them and watch them and take confidence from their success," Premier League CEO Richard Masters said Monday. "I think starting the league, watching it being played out, seeing the quality of football and observing the package from behind closed doors, how it was broadcast was really helpful for the Premier League and our other European Leagues' colleagues.
"That is helpful and it does add confidence that it can be achievable in this country. We speak to our European counterparts regularly every week. We're really pleased to see the Bundesliga get back to a good playing start [Saturday]. The football looks good."
At this point, having the Premier League season become null and void seems as unlikely as it seems unfair. Between the precedents set elsewhere and the determination (even if there is uneasiness among some players) to resume, Liverpool should be able to rest knowing that the worst-case scenario will not unfold. Its inevitable coronation is coming–eventually.
"There was talk that people wanted to declare the season null and void. So you thought: 'Huh? We have played 76 percent of the season and you just want to delete the thing?'" Klopp said in a video chat as part of the German DFB Academy's Leadership Talk. "That would have been something that I personally would find unfair, to just say that it didn't happen. We are first in the home table, we are first in the away table. It is a season in which we should become champions."
The Premier League is doing what it can to avoid cutting its season short. Clubs are permitted, as of Tuesday, to resume training in small groups, though adhering to social-distancing guidelines in a non-contact setting. Testing for the coronavirus will take place twice a week, with up to 40 players, coaches and personnel per club subjected to it.
The next step, barring any setbacks, would be advancing to more regular training in a week's time, leading, ideally, into the return of matches sometime in June. The clubs who have games in hand–Arsenal, Manchester City, Sheffield United and Aston Villa–would likely play their matches first to get all 20 clubs on level ground before the remainder of the season is played out.
“We all understand that this virus isn’t going to go away just like that–it’s going to hang around a bit, but I think with the protocols in place we’ll do everything we possibly can to get up and running again,” said Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, whose club would have hosted Liverpool and almost assuredly would have staged a guard of honor for the new champions this past Sunday in that alternate, virus-free universe.
As for the trophy celebration that Liverpool so desperately covets, it may well come later this summer. Masters confirmed that if it could be conducted safely, he would sign off on a full presentation.
"If at all possible, yes, you'd like to have a trophy presentation," Masters said. "You want to give those players and the whole staff the moment they worked so hard for, if that's what happens. Yes, we would try and do it, unless it wasn't possible because of safety concerns."
It may not be a parade, and it may be anticlimactic, but after a three-decade-long wait, it would be a celebration worth savoring nonetheless.