UEFA, European football's governing body, has announced guidelines to decide how domestic leagues should conclude their 2019-20 seasons, with the principal belief that admission to international competition be decided on "sporting merit."
Following a meeting of its executive committee via video-conference on Thursday, UEFA confirmed plans to decide which teams will qualify for next season's continental contests:
The Premier League has been suspended since March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a variety of options are still being discussed as England’s first tier targets a comeback this summer.
Outlining the health of players, spectators and all those involved in the sport "must remain the primary concern at this time," UEFA said the best-case scenario would see domestic leagues completed "in their original format." Failing that possibility, the latest announcement allowed for altered formats that would still decide qualifying teams based on sporting merit, with play-offs mooted in some countries.
UEFA stated a domestic league could be prematurely terminated if a government order or bans on sporting events made it impossible to finish the 2019-20 season "in good time before the next season" can begin.
In this event, national associations would be required to decide qualifying teams for the 2020-21 Champions League and Europa League seasons themselves. However, UEFA reserved the right to "refuse or evaluate the admission" of any given club depending on the criteria used.
The announcement means Liverpool would more than likely be crowned English top-flight champions for the first time since 1990 based on merit. Manchester City's European ban (pending appeal) means the top-four fate is uncertain, while Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich City—currently in the Premier League relegation zone—face a wait to see if they would drop down.
The Mirror's Alex Richards highlighted one issue in defining between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United, who sit sixth and seventh, respectively, but have played a different amount of games:
An earlier statement published Wednesday said there was a “strong recommendation” to finish the top-flight campaigns in domestic leagues following a meeting with its 55 members associations.
Liverpool haven't won the English first-tier title in 30 years and would have clinched this year's crown with two more wins, having built a 25-point lead over defending champions Manchester City.
Reuters confirmed the number of coronavirus-related deaths in hospitals in the United Kingdom had risen to 18,100 on Wednesday, and increase of 763 people from 24 hours prior.
Henry Winter of The Times wrote on April 17 that there was “no appetite for voiding” the season among Premier League powers, though he added action would only return when it was safe:
It was reported in late March that all 92 remaining games could be played behind closed doors and televised to the public. The UK’s culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, told the press he was in talks with the Premier League about airing some fixtures on free-to-air television, arguing there were ways to protect organisers from losing broadcast revenue.