Why Reds win and lose in Project Restart: Neil Humphreys
Kane's recovery a boon for Jose; but Pogba's return poses a conundrum for Ole
With the English Premier League restarting this week, here's a look at who stands to benefit - and suffer - from the lengthy layoff.
The Reds win without kicking a ball. When the season resumes with Aston Villa hosting Sheffield United on Thursday morning (Singapore time), Liverpool fans everywhere will say a little prayer of gratitude. The title triumph becomes a reality.
No one particularly cares where or when the 30-year drought ends. Liverpool's pursuit of excellence deserves a fitting finale. Anfield may be silent, but Reds around the world will bring the noise in their living rooms.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to empty stadiums. Former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy insists that an EPL footballer finds the motivation from within - or he wouldn't be an EPL footballer. It's a tad trite, but undeniable true.
However, manager Juergen Klopp believes otherwise. He conducts the 12th man like no one else because no one else has a 12th man like Anfield under the floodlights.
In a tactical sense, Klopp's relentless gegenpressing feeds off the crowd's energy.Of course, the relationship is temporarily broken.
It won't lead to a catastrophic title collapse, but Liverpool's scintillating football may not dominate as before.
WINNER: MANCHESTER CITY
Bundesliga games behind closed doors have been slower for a couple of reasons. As mentioned above, the silence dilutes the frenzied elements of contests.
More critically, it's hot. By the time July comes around, temperatures will be nudging towards 30 deg C. In Singapore, such balmy conditions are commonplace, but not for EPL footballers.
Heat does not benefit gegenpressing, but slower, possession-based football, the kind championed by Pep Guardiola.
Manchester City's methodical build-up may suit the climate and the sterile conditions, in both the EPL and Champions League.
Guardiola knows that his club are suspended from Europe next season, pending an appeal. If they're going to be kings of the continent, the coronation process must start now.
LOSER: MANCHESTER UNITED
This one is debatable. The Red Devils have gained Paul Pogba, but lost momentum. Before Covid-19, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men had finally hit upon an attacking cohesion and were unbeaten in 11 games.
Bruno Fernandes' arrival in January was the turning point. He scored twice in five EPL games and managed three assists.
Like title-chasing Liverpool, the Red Devils really didn't need the mid-season suspension (nor did a resurgent Arsenal for that matter).
However, there is an undeniable silver lining in Pogba.
Before Covid-19, United signed Fernandes and got better. After Covid-19, Pogba got better.
The 27-year-old is now fit to play for a side that suddenly looks appealing. United's final standing may well depend on which Pogba shows up.
WINNER: TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Before Covid-19, the old Jose Mourinho was back. He was the bad Marlon Brando impersonator, constantly reminding everyone that he could've been a contender if - insert injured superstar's name here - was available.
Before the lockdown, it was Harry Kane. Nevermind a creaking central defence, erratic fullbacks and the worrying emergence of the ponderous plodding that ended Mourinho's stint at Manchester United, all he needed was England's best striker.
Well, Kane is back, along with Son Heung Min, which has precipitated the return of the old-old Mourinho, the smiley, cocky one.
Let's see how long it lasts.
LOSER: WEAKER HOME TEAMS
Before last weekend, the Bundesliga's geisterspiele (ghost games) had underlined the value of the 12th man.
Home teams had won just 21.7 per cent of matches, down from 43.3 per cent before the lockdown. Home teams had also scored fewer goals and away teams had won more games.
Without the advantage of a raucous home crowd, an empty stadium only increases the gap between the haves and have-nots.
Similarly, the packed fixture list further penalises smaller clubs with smaller squads. EPL minnows are being unfairly punished twice.
After a weekend of racist violence among lobotomised knuckle-draggers in London, it's always fun to note that one of the most multi-racial sporting competitions in the world will resume - with more than a third of the footballers from black and Asian backgrounds.
After spending the lockdown raising millions of pounds for the disadvantaged, United's Marcus Rashford will return from injury.
Like every other EPL player, Rashford's surname will be replaced with "Black Lives Matter" on the back of his jersey. And he will get a standing ovation. There will be no sweeter sound.