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Should the top five European leagues follow in Belgium’s footsteps?

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Football in Europe, with the exception of Belarus, has been suspended due to the pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill. Given how precarious the situation has become, there is no indication of when any of the competitions would return to action. 

Amidst all this, the Jupiler Pro League, the top flight competition of Belgium, has taken a drastic step to ensure the safety of everyone involved by cancelling the competition. Club Brugge are declared the champions for the season with the current table set to stand.

At the time of announcement, only one game was left to be played in the league, although the play-offs to decide the top positions were due. Brugge had a 15-point lead at the top over second-placed Genk when the league was suspended. And now, these standings will remain as they are, with the former to be crowned champions.

However, there still remain question marks over how the board decides to address the relegation/promotion issues as well as the European qualification slots. Nevertheless, Jupiler Pro League has taken a bold step in the current circumstances.

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Should the top five leagues of Europe – the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 follow suit and cancel their respective seasons and award the current leaders the title?

Before going into the question ‘should the 2019-20 campaign be cancelled’, let’s take a look at how the tables are shaping up currently in each of the top five leagues.

Premier League

The Premier League has seen one of the most one-sided title races in recent memory, with Liverpool reigning supreme in England. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds have a 25-point lead over Manchester City in second and are in need of just two more wins in their nine matches left to be played. 

However, things are much tighter when it comes to the Champions League qualifying spots, with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Wolves, Sheffield United, Tottenham and Arsenal all within a shot. 

Manchester City’s European ban means the team finishing fifth also stand to qualify for Europe’s premier competition, adding intrigue to the race. And considering that Arsenal and Sheffield United have played a game less than the rest of their competitors, they might have a thing or two to say against the league getting cancelled.

The relegation battle is also far from being decided. Only four points separate teams between 15th and 19th spots. Aston Villa, who are second from bottom, have played a game less than the others around them in the standings.

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La Liga

The title race in La Liga is much closer than in England. Leaders Barcelona have just a two-point lead over closest challengers and arch-rivals Real Madrid with eleven games still to be played.

The race for the European spots is also closely competed with just five points separating third-placed Sevilla from Valencia in the 7th, with Real Sociedad, Getafe and Atletico Madrid all in the mix. 

The same goes for relegation as well, with there being just a seven-point gap between Eibar in 16th and bottom feeders Espanyol. With eleven matches yet to be played, the teams currently in the drop zone are bound to argue that they still have a chance to recover if the league decide to cancel with things as they are.

Bundesliga

It is a three-horse for the title in Germany with leaders Bayern Munich facing competition from Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig. Five of the current top six look all set for a spot in European football next season, while the likes of Schalke, Wolfsburg, Freiburg vie for the sixth place.

At the other end of the table, bottom two clubs, Paderborn and Werder Bremen are well off the pace from the rest of the pack, while Fortuna Dusseldorf, who occupy the relegation playoff spot, are four points away from Mainz 05 in 15th. But with nine matches still to be played, ten in the case of Werder Bremen, it is still too early to take a call on the relegation battle as well.

Serie A

The race for the title in Italy sees leaders Juventus separated from second-placed Lazio by just a solitary point. Inter Milan have fallen behind in the race, but are comfortable in third while Atalanta and Roma make up the top five. Napoli are currently sixth with AC Milan, Verona and Parma breathing down their neck for the final Europa League spot.

Brescia seem set for relegation as they are nine points away from safety, while second-bottom SPAL are seven away. Just three points separate 18th placed Lecce from 14th placed Udinese though, showing there’s still a lot left to play for in the Serie A relegation battle.

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Ligue 1

As is the case almost every season, the title race is a foregone conclusion in France, with PSG opening up an eight-point lead over Marseille with a game in hand. Rennes and Lille look comfortable in the remaining two slots for European football.

Bottom dwellers Toulouse have just 13 points and are sure to be relegated. Four teams – Amiens, Nimes, St. Etienne and Dijon – are competing to avoid the remaining two relegation slots.

League Cancellation and Potential Fallout from such a step

If the top five leagues are currently cancelled as they are, Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and PSG will be crowned champions in England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France respectively.

Given the lead Liverpool and PSG have opened up at the top, it does seem fair for them to be handed the titles. But as described previously, the European qualification spots in almost every competition are far from being decided. The same goes for the relegation battle as well. 

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If the leagues are now called off with the current table holding, teams involved in those races will have a lot of gripe about. 

Take the case of Sheffield United, who are level on points with sixth-placed Wolves in the Premier League, but have played a game less. They will most certainly argue that they were handed a raw deal, that if the table was frozen with all teams having played 28 matches, they would have finished higher.

Such scenarios are likely to occur across competitions and would leave the respective leagues open for legal proceedings against them.

Moreover, the financial implications of calling off the leagues without completion can be far-reaching. 

An unfinished season will see the Premier League clubs lose out on a mammoth £762 million in broadcast revenue. 

Canal+ and beIN Media Group are withholding their upcoming payment for domestic Ligue 1 rights due to the suspension of competition in France. The combined payout from both broadcasters, only for the current instalment that is being held back, comes up to around a whopping €150 million.

Between a rock and a hard place

Given the current circumstances across the globe, following in the footsteps of Belgium and cancelling the leagues would make sense. But the repercussions from such a decision could be far-reaching. 

Which is why UEFA have issued a statement in the aftermath of the Jupiler League being called off. European football’s governing body has criticized the move, claiming that the cancellation of leagues should only be a last resort.

"We are confident that football can restart in the months to come - with conditions that will be dictated by public authorities - and believe that any decision of abandoning domestic competitions is, at this stage, premature and not justified," the statement read.

Given that UEFA has already postponed the summer’s Euros to next year, it does free up a window for the ongoing season to be completed, provided things return to some sense of normalcy in the coming months. So it makes sense for the league associations to wait out and not jump to hasty decisions that could have an undesirable impact.

Feautre image courtesy: AFP / Tolga Akmen

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