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Absence of fans won't make title joy any less compelling

Liverpool will have earned their coronation no matter where and when it happens

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James Milner and Mo Salah share a joke during training yesterday ahead of tomorrow’s game against Everton. Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

James Milner and Mo Salah share a joke during training yesterday ahead of tomorrow’s game against Everton. Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Liverpool FC via Getty Images

James Milner and Mo Salah share a joke during training yesterday ahead of tomorrow’s game against Everton. Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Thrilling and memorable climaxes to a title race are rare. As looks to be the case for Liverpool in 2020, the majority of champions are in a position to savour a victory lap rather than lunge for a photo finish.

If compiling a list of majestic finales, Michael Thomas sprinting through at Anfield in 1989 would go head-to-head with Sergio Aguero's last-gasp winner against QPR in 2012.

These games stand out because everything was on the line heading into an epic last minute.

There are other occasions when the drama extends into the final week, such as Vincent Kompany firing Manchester City to victory over Leicester City to fend off Liverpool a year ago, Arsenal sealing the 2002 Premier League at Old Trafford, Liverpool beating Chelsea in 1986, and Manchester United overcoming Tottenham to win the first part of the treble in 1999.

Generally, title-winning campaigns are chronicled through numerous memorable events well before the end, not in one all-encompassing last act.

When I think of the Everton team I supported as a boy, I remember the 1985 champions because of Graeme Sharp's spectacular volley to win 1-0 at Anfield, Andy Gray's diving headers against Sunderland, beating Manchester United 5-0 at Goodison, and a world-class Neville Southall save against title rivals Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.

Headers

Manchester United ended a 26-year wait in 1993 in a season in which Steve Bruce's headers in the 85th and 97th minutes of a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday are most replayed, Alex Ferguson running onto the pitch as BBC commentator Barry Davies observed: "They are almost celebrating the championship."

Jose Mourinho's 2005 Chelsea team are most remembered for signalling a power shift with an opening-day victory over Manchester United before dashing away with the most victories and fewest number of goals conceded in a season. City bettered that record points tally in 2018.

For Leicester City in 2016, the campaign gathered momentum in a week in February when Jamie Vardy's volley inspired victory over Liverpool four days prior to a 3-1 away win over Manchester City.

Liverpool restart their campaign tomorrow in a similar situation to the majority of title-winners, knowing they have completed the hard yards and must safely negotiate the final steps. Should, as we all expect, Liverpool collect six more points, the games which mattered were played in the 29 games before lockdown.

Think about the 2-1 win over Spurs in October, Klopp's side recovering from a goal down to impose themselves in the second half. Remember home and away triumphs over Leicester City, and the 3-1 Anfield victory against Manchester City in November, a week after coming from behind to beat Aston Villa with goals in the 87th and 94th minute. Liverpool went nine points clear. "The league is done," Sky pundit Mourinho perceptively observed after the City win.

Think about the Kop singing: "We're gonna win the league" for the first time this season after outplaying Manchester United on the same weekend City dropped points at home to Crystal Palace. These were defining moments.

That is why I always considered jibes about an asterisk next to Liverpool's name no more than petty asides from rivals unable to come to terms with the possibility of an Anfield title.

Had football not resumed, Liverpool were deservedly going to be named champions. Finishing the season erases barbs about incompleteness, and there is no credibility in suggesting the break in play undermines what happens next.

This is not the first time an English season has been interrupted in horrifying circumstances.

When it happened tragically in 1989, Arsenal's subsequent title success was rightly judged and acclaimed solely on sporting merit, with little or no reference to the impact the Hillsborough disaster might have had on the outcome of the season.

For 30 years, the question at the start of every season was: "When will Liverpool win the league?" Now they are so close, you must forgive me for failing to see much relevance in the alternative: "Where will they be when they win it?" Obviously, before the events of the past three months, the possibility of sealing it at Goodison Park was appealing to Liverpool fans.

I can understand the Evertonians' relief that will not now be possible, thanks to City's midweek win over Arsenal.

But without fans, the pleasure of winning in the stadium of a local rival would not have been as satisfying to the Liverpool players now as it would have been in March. Liverpool might win their next two games and be champions by Wednesday. They may win tomorrow and be champions sitting in their living room on Monday, if Burnley beat Manchester City.

Lose to Everton, and it may yet be another three weeks before they can finally claim victory.

Wherever it is done, it will carry its own golden meaning. If, or when, the moment comes, crossing the finishing line is about the personal experiences of those participating and witnessing, not neutrals who are resigned to an inevitable outcome and wish it could be more exciting.

Piledriver

Look back over the title-winners I referenced earlier, other than Evertonians, who recalls that the 1985 championship was confirmed with a 2-0 home win over QPR? Or that the 1987 title race ended with a Pat van den Hauwe piledriver at Carrow Road?

United's win in 1993 was not made official with panache after sweeping aside an opponent at Old Trafford. It was sealed with Fergie on a golf course, as nearest rivals Aston Villa lost to Oldham Athletic.

For Chelsea and Mourinho, the Reebok Stadium is special as the scene of the 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers which started their 2005 celebrations.

Leicester's players were assembling for an impromptu party at Vardy's house as rivals Spurs imploded against Chelsea to confirm Claudio Ranieri's legendary status.

What some define as low-key will always be remembered as historic for those emotionally invested in the outcome.

Liverpool will be denied the supercharged fans' outpouring that would have accompanied the end of their long wait. There is no hiding how disappointing that is.

But that will not make the moment of victory less meaningful. So many have been asking where Liverpool will win the title.

As they prepare for their return, they finally have the chance to prove suspicions right. They won it months ago. All that remains is where and when they confirm it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Everton v Liverpool,

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