Faltering restart for Liverpool title charge after shutdown

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Everton's Seamus Coleman, left, challenges Liverpool's Sadio Mane during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Sunday, June 21, 2020. (Peter Powell/Pool via AP)

LIVERPOOL – Liverpool’s title charge has been slowed by the pandemic, and its attacking ruthlessness blunted.

After a wait of 103 days, Jürgen Klopp's team returned to action with a 0-0 draw at Everton on Sunday as it nears the end of a 30-year title drought.

It means the world champions can no longer be sure of sealing the English title with a victory against Crystal Palace on Wednesday. Liverpool can become champions with a win if Burnley does not lose at second-place defending champion Manchester City on Monday.

Liverpool lost to Watford in the penultimate Premier League match before the unexpected break in the league. But when the team is 23 points in front with eight games remaining there is hardly much to grumble about.

The need to prevent the coronavirus spreading meant this was an unusually quiet Merseyside derby with fans prohibited from Goodison Park and even the teams having to enter the field separately. Liverpool used a temporary dressing room outside the stadium so they could socially distance.

“Obviously everyone didn’t know really what to expect, the whole procedure before the game and how things will go," Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said. “Obviously we wanted to win, we wanted to get the three points today, but we’re another step closer. We’ll try to improve every time.”

That has been the message since the week before the football shutdown in March when Liverpool was also knocked out of the Champions League and FA Cup.

But Liverpool saw just why Everton is unbeaten at home since Carlo Ancelotti was hired. He has steered the team 11 points clear of the relegation zone which it dropped into after losing at Anfield in December in Marco Silva's final game before being fired.