This season was shaping up to be one of the best in Premier League history, but the re-emergence of COVID-19 is a real sucker-punch to its chances of fulfilling its potential.
Manchester City and Liverpool are flying, with Chelsea only a few points back following recent slip-ups – indicating a genuine possibility of a three-horse race between three of the best teams on the planet.
It was exactly what football fans needed after the past two seasons were interrupted and in many ways ruined by the social and medical consequences of the pandemic.
Liverpool beat Newcastle 3-1 midweek, despite having three players absent due to suspected positive tests. As Jurgen Klopp indicated, if the virus starts to spread amongst the squad, it’ll likely be six or seven infected before you know it, which will create an untenable footballing position.
At the time of writing, we’re due to play Tottenham on Sunday, but rumours are rife that other members of our squad are providing positive lateral flow tests – so there’s no guarantee the fixture will go ahead.
And with teams now becoming increasingly decimated at varying levels, is it fair to continue a competition that requires a level playing field for its authenticity?
On the one hand, it would be devastating from a footballing and fan perspective to halt a wonderful season in its busiest and most exciting period.
But realistically, how can we continue when half the fixtures are on and half off? How is it fair that some sides have to field significantly weakened XIs when others get the weekend off due to a postponement? The Premier League has a meeting on Monday to decide what to do, but sadly, it cannot continue in its current state.
The problem is, if the PL is suspended, how do we start it up again? Omicron is growing and we could well get a situation where the season is paused for a few months and the games are played out behind closed doors in the summer, which would be a sporting travesty and an economic hammer-blow to the clubs.
Ultimately, players need full vaccination and boosters, as Klopp has unapologetically and loudly preached. The fact that 25% of EFL footballers have so far refused the vaccine is a sad indictment, given they’re literally surrounded by medical professionals to provide sound, scientific advice.
Jurgen Klopp on the COVID-19 vaccine 👊 pic.twitter.com/lPyaLXs5MI
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 17, 2021
Given the apparently limited side-effects of the latest COVID-19 variant on young, vaccinated people, perhaps one day we could have a system where players without symptoms simply play on – given COVID is going nowhere and at some stage we need to live alongside the virus and its mutations.
But that is not a realistic suggestion for this season, given the current daily increase in hospitalisations and the need for football to largely mirror society’s rules – even if they are provided by an incompetent, lying government.
Right now, it’s looking bleak – and there is likely no perfect answer. As Klopp says, football must listen to the scientific experts and do its best to carry on while following their guidelines.
Whatever decision is made, Liverpool fans should be unbelievably proud and privileged to have witnessed the first half of the season our brilliant team has provided us.
Mo Salah has become, probably by some distance, the world’s best footballer. He has 22 goals and nine assists in the Premier League and Champions League so far. His hilarious ranking of 7th in the Ballon d’Or will surely be righted in 2022 if football finds a way to continue – given his current form and insane physical ability to play practically every minute.
With ONLY goals scored by Mohamed Salah counting, Liverpool would still be third in the Premier League and have a positive goal difference 🤯
What a season the Egyptian is having 🇪🇬👑 pic.twitter.com/fyri7HgmNz
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) December 17, 2021
He has been ably backed up by Diogo Jota (10 goals, two assists) and Sadio Mane (nine goals, two assists) – with contributions from Roberto Firmino, Divock Origi and Taki Minamino proving there is perhaps better strength in attacking depth than we realised pre-season.
As an attacking force, this is the best and most exciting Liverpool side under Klopp, including the teams that won the title and European Cup.
The most dangerous creative force in the country is right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, although his role is developing and he now spends as much time in half-spaces close to the centre of the pitch as he does on the flank, where the right-sided midfielder in our 4-3-3 system covers for him. The manner in which Klopp and Pep Lijnders have forged a new position for this ludicrous Scouse talent, who is outperforming every other chance-creator in Europe in those metrics, is just another highlight.
Thiago’s influence on the midfield is growing, and Liverpool’s almost flawless record when Fabinho starts alongside him shows a trio of those two and captain Jordan Henderson is as good as anything else in Europe.
At the back, Virgil van Dijk is slowly getting back to his best following his injury, while Joel Matip is playing the sharpest football of his career, and is rightly the most selected defender to play alongside the unrivalled Dutchman. Ibrahima Konate though has delighted the management and shone v Newcastle when covering for VVD’s Covid absence. Say it quietly, but Virg was not playing at the level Konate is when he was 22-years-old…
Whatever happens v Spurs on Sunday, fans should be appreciative of the entertainment they’ve provided us, which obviously makes the potential for the season’s postponement all the more painful.
Should we lose or draw at the Tottenham Stadium with a depleted team, against a side who’ve had a long, replenishing break due to their own COVID misfortune, we must stay fully behind the players, staff and everyone involved.
Football wise, the players have delivered, and Klopp is proving the kind of eloquent spokesman and leader the country is crying out for. In many ways, his talents are wasted on football.
So listen to the boss, support the players and remember the sensational achievements of this side to date, regardless of what becomes.