Liverpool's wait had already gone on for 30 years. Then, it was pushed by a few more months, due to a pandemic. So what's an extra set of games?
That's the situation in which Jurgen Klopp and his players find themselves, with a seemingly inevitable title celebration still on ice but well within reach. The combination of Manchester City's two victories and Liverpool's scoreless draw vs. Everton in their first games since the restart have pushed the potential clinching date even more, but it's still quite imminent.
Entering Wednesday, Liverpool sat a whopping 20 points clear of second-place City with eight games remaining apiece. The calculus changed after Liverpool's 4-0 rout of Crystal Palace helped the club get ever closer to finishing the job. That alone didn't secure the trophy, though. Here's what it'll take for Liverpool, which remains some combination of two points away from crossing the finish line–finally:
LIVERPOOL CLINCHES THIS WEEK
Simply put: a Man City loss to or draw vs. Chelsea on Thursday would secure the title for the Reds. That combination of events would give Liverpool a 23- or 22-point edge with only 21 points remaining up for grabs, giving Klopp & Co. the title in the most passive of fashions. Clinching the finality of it all without actually playing doesn't have to be anticlimactic (see: Leicester City's Vardy Party as Chelsea stormed back to draw Tottenham in 2016), but in this instance it would all be a bit unsatisfying. Of course, the manner of clinching the title is secondary to just securing it, period, and considering that it was uncertain just a few weeks ago if the Premier League season would continue at all, perhaps it's not worth splitting hairs.
City could wind up being at less than full strength at Stamford Bridge. Aside from Sergio Aguero's injury, Pep Guardiola revealed that the club's full domestic focus is on the FA Cup (it faces Newcastle this Sunday in the quarterfinals) and that he would rotate his squad accordingly. City's depth being what it is, that doesn't mean a junior team will take the field, but it does open the door a little bit more for its league opponents.
“We can’t deny that we have one eye on Newcastle,” Guardiola said in his prematch comments. “Chelsea and Liverpool [next week] are prestigious and important games, but Newcastle is our game. A final for us.”
LIVERPOOL CLINCHES AT THE ETIHAD NEXT WEEK
If Man City matches Liverpool's win this week, then the scenario opens up for Liverpool to go to the home of the two-time reigning champions next Thursday and very appropriately take the title directly from its keeper with a win or draw.
Either result would put City out of reach, with the deficit remaining at 20 or expanding to 23 with six games (and 18 points) left on the table. And as Guardiola alluded to, his team selection could yield a squad that's at less than full strength.
IF NOT BY THEN, THEN WHAT?
So say things have been pushed even more, with Man City beating Chelsea, holding serve at home vs. Liverpool and the top of the table not being sorted by July 4.
Liverpool would return to Anfield with the chance to get the job done at home. Sunday, July 5, relegation-threatened Aston Villa heads to Merseyside, where the sounds of the Kop will be absent, but the passion remains.
The club's supporters decorated the stands with banners and flags for Wednesday return vs. Crystal Palace, and while there may be no goosebump-inducing sounds of "You'll Never Walk Alone" being belted out in the stands, perhaps cementing the title in front of those stands would be the most appropriate-feeling way to finish off the quest.
“We know we are fortunate that we are allowed to resume playing and all players will understand we have to show the people watching from home that we appreciate this opportunity," Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson wrote in the club's matchday program ahead of its match vs. Palace. “Of course we all want the fans back as soon as possible, because they make the game what it is. But the fans haven’t disappeared – they’re just somewhere else. They still watch and they still support."