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By Tony Attwood
Competition at the top of the league is getting tougher. Once upon a time we would talk of the Big Six (Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City). But with Tottenham finishing in eighth and Chelsea 12th, that view seems to be less accurate.
Besides, across the last six years only two teams have won the Premier League: Manchester City and Liverpool, which is why, despite all the hype in England, the league is losing some of its shine in the rest of the world. It is getting to be a bit like France in terms of titles (Paris St Germain 5, Lille 1) and Germany (Bayern Munich 6 in the last six years),
Only Italy, of the larger leagues, really breaks the trend with Juventus (3), and InterMilan, Milan and Napoli having one title each in the last three seasons. Although to be fair even Spain is moving somewhat away from the old duopoly with Barcelona 3, Real Madrid 2 and Atletico Madrid 1 across those six seasons. The Dutch league also has a little more variation with Ajax 3, Feyenoord 2 and PSV 1 in these six years.
The Premier League is in fact pretty much a mirror of the Greek league where the last six years have given us Olympiacos five triumphs and Panathinaikos one. Even Norway has more variation than the Premier League.
Of course there is still some fascination with leagues where the same club wins most of the time, but gradually that diminishes as the power of the single top club to buy any player they want and basically run the show, continues.
Obviously, if you are a supporter of the top club it’s fun, and of course, if it happened that Arsenal were the top club in England year on year, I wouldn’t mind quite so much. But even in Arsenal’s best ever run in the 1930s their top performance across six years was Arsenal four titles, Everton one and Sunderland one. It wasn’t quite as extreme as now in France, Germany and England.
So yes, the Premier League’s old variety is losing some of its essence in comparison to the six years from 2012/13 to 2017/18 in which Manchester City won the league twice, Chelsea twice, and Manchester United and Leicester City once each.
But even though the Premier League is getting ever more predictable (at least until that legal case against Manchester City finally comes to an end in about 2027) another question remains: is it getting tougher?
Over the last six years the average points total of the winners has been 94.2 – and certainly this is an all time high, as we can see by looking at the list of league winners. Just 11 times in the 31-year history of the Premier League the top club has gained 90 points or more. Five of those occasions have come in the last seven years.
At the bottom, however, it is more static – the club third from bottom has been regularly getting between 28 and 35 points. The last time 36 points would not have been enough for salvation was seven years ago – and then Newcastle were relegated with 37.
In short, and without involving too much maths, at the top of the league the top clubs are continuing to stretch their points totals, while at the bottom, much remains the same. Here’s the table for the top club year by year…
On the other hand, 71 points usually does it for fourth place, although the range over the six years is 66 to 75.
But let’s have a look at eighth – the position Arsenal occupied for two seasons, and where Tottenham now find themselves. Here the trend is that clubs need more and more points to get eighth. It is not an absolute trend, but the two highest number of points scored by an eighth placed team have come in the last three years out of the last six.
But the issue we have now in the PL is that nine clubs see themselves as seriously contending for the top six places, because outside the top six last season, but with aspirations of being there are Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Chelsea, making it a “big nine” – almost half the league!
But there’s a final observation to make from that list of clubs ending eighth in the past six years. Everton have now twice avoided relegation right at the end of the season, and Leicester have gone down. Tottenham this past season were widely tipped for a top four finish.
So perhaps even though Manchester City are certain to win the league next season (because their legal case will still be running and if they are not top by the end of this year, they’ll just buy the players that will take them to the top, no matter what the cost) one or two of the other bigger clubs might come a cropper.
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