Liverpool’s hopes of progressing deeper into the Champions League have been given a boost with the news that the first leg of their last 16 clash with RB Leipzig might be played at a neutral venue.
The German government is preventing international travel from countries worst affected by coronavirus until February 17 at the earliest, with Liverpool’s tie with Leipzig scheduled for a day earlier.
At the time of writing, officials at the Red Bull franchise had just been turned down by Germany’s federal police in a late bid to get special dispensation for the fixture to go ahead.
“The Corona Protection Order agreed by the federal government last Friday envisions only a few exceptions and no special arrangement for professional athletes,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
The two clubs and UEFA are now racking their brains to come up with an alternative, which they must do by February 8.
It looks increasingly likely that the date for the first leg will be moved until after the February 17 limitations end – although they could yet be extended, of course. If Germany continues to block international arrivals beyond that date then Manchester City’s clash with Borussia M’gladbach is also likely to be affected, while there’s a similar picture in Portugal so Arsenal and Benfica’s dates in the Europa League are also under threat.
Other options being explored by Leipzig and Liverpool include the game going ahead at a neutral venue, with London and Budapest thought to be possibilities. The idea of switching the legs, so that the first game is played at Anfield, is not being considered according to sources.
As ever, UEFA gets the final say on whatever is agreed, with the governing body firm on getting the game on but only in the right circumstances.
“In all cases, the venue of a match must be approved by the Uefa administration, which has the right to assign an alternative venue for any particular match or even to decide that either or both legs of the relevant round to be rescheduled and/or played in a neutral country (within the territory of a Uefa member association) and/or organised as a single leg,” their rulebook states.
Another possibility is to simply delay the tie. UEFA have set a deadline of April 2 for last 16 encounters to be resolved, and so a delay of both legs – while accounting for domestic schedules – seems to be the most straightforward solution.
Even though there would be no supporters present anyway, there is still an implied advantage of playing at your own stadium, and so Leipzig are likely to be aggrieved by a neutral venue being selected – particularly one on English soil. Of course, that may mean that the second leg is played at a neutral ground too for fairness, but Liverpool’s odds – 11/10 to win the first leg and 3/10 to qualify for the quarter final – are shortening, and with good reason.
The other stumbling block is that if Leipzig travelled to the UK they would be forced to quarantine for ten days on their return to Germany, meaning that their Bundesliga schedule would be disrupted too.
As such, it is likely that the first leg will be played at a stadium in a country in mainland Europe with a low caseload of Covid-19….either way, the Reds have been given a huge competitive edge in their pursuit of the continent’s most sought-after silverware.