According to the media we’re going back to the early days of the century



By Tony Attwood

At little while back we published a chart showing just how much the top of the Premier League changes from one season to another.  In terms of points, we found that for example, that Arsenal ranged from 56 to 84 points over the last four seasons.

Chelsea had a drop of 30 points two seasons ago to last season.  Liverpool also dropped their season total by 30 points between 2019/20 and the following season.  Manchester City’s total dropped by 17 points between 2018/19 and 2019/20.   In all we showed that from one season to the next, the top four or five did not stay together as a gaggle, although the use of phrases such as the Top Four or Big Six suggest they do.

Looking at where each club ends up we can see that only once across the past 15 years have the same teams ended up in the top four, two years running.  And yet this is what the media suggested one year ago (and got it hopelessly wrong) and what they are suggesting again this year.

Basically what happens is that there are invariably changes – and this is one of the things that makes the league quite interesting.  Indeed if we go back to the start of this century we had Leeds United not only in the top division but finishing third.   Sunderland were sixth, Leicester eighth, Tottenham 10th.  Also in the Premier League were Middlesbrough, Coventry, Derby, Bradford City, Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday and Watford.  In fact half of the Premier League clubs 23 years ago are no longer there.

In half of the last six seasons, the “top six” clubs we are looking at have ended up in the top six, but in two of the last three seasons, two of those clubs have dropped out of the top six.  Here’s the table for the “big six” over the last six years in terms of league position.


Club 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23
Arsenal 6 5 8 8 5 2
Chelsea 5 3 4 4 3 12
Liverpool 4 2 1 3 2 5
Man City 1 1 2 1 1 1
Man Utd 2 6 3 2 6 3
Tottenham 3 4 6 7 4 8


But now the Telegraph has asked its commentators to name their top four for this coming season and this is what they suggest:


Reporter Burt Ducker Bascombe Edwards Dean McGrath
1st Man City Man City Man City Man City Man City Man City
2nd Man Utd Arsenal Arsenal Arsenal Arsenal Man U
3rd Arsenal Man Utd Chelsea Liverpool Liverpool Arsenal
4th Liverpool Liverpool Liverpool Man Utd Man Utd Liverpool


But what they don’t explain is why they think we have moved from a period where the big teams can and do drop out of the top positions, into a new period in which the same thing is going to happen year after year.   They did the same last summer of course, and then again no one explained why.   And as I have noted I haven’t seen anyone apologising last season for getting it so wrong.

Indeed it is the abject failure to comment upon their mistakes in forecasting last year that gives us a clue as to how bad they are at this lark.

I suspect it is the role of the professional football journalist to predict the same thing will happen year after year because that is a damn site easier than suggesting that one of the clubs from outside the top four might break in.   “What will happen this year?”   “Oh put down same as last year…”   Job done, time to go to the Toppled Bollard (public house of choice of football journalists).

But there are reasons to suspect that the constant rise and fall of teams which has been a hallmark of the Premier League will continue.

First, we have the issue of Newcastle United.   In recent years Newcastle have finished 13th, 12th, 11th , 4th.   The money is still pouring in, and while the League is focussed on its 110 legal cases against Manchester City it seems to have no interest in investigating Newcastle’s income, so the money will be there once more this season.  They have spent almost £100m this summer and look likely to spend more.

Five Premier League clubs have appointed new managers so far this year including Chelsea and Tottenham.  Six appointed new managers last year – and I mention this because the media is always beefing up the story of the new manage coming in with big improvements.

That’s, rather obviously, over half of the Premier League clubs have changed managers in the last 19 months.    But if changing managers never does any good a) why do the media cover it in such a big way and b) why do clubs keep on doing it?   If it is because the clubs have no idea what they are doing, surely that is a good story on its own.

The “experts” got last season’s predictions utterly wrong by predicting that the 2022/23 season would finish looking exactly the same as the season before.   I suspect they are making a similar error this year, for the simple reason that from 2005/6 to 2008/9 we did have a period in which the same four clubs ended up in the top four positions for four years running, and the journalists loved that because it made their job so easy.  All they are doing is hankering for the old days.

Thus in the summer of 2019 there was a general expectation that Tottenham would be part of the top four for the forthcoming season, on the grounds they had just had four years in the top four.  In fact in the following four seasons they made fourth just once, the remaining seasons falling to 6th, 7th and 8th.

Of course some things do not change.   Last season the journalists all got it hopelessly wrong and didn’t apologise.  I see no reason for anything to be different this year.


3 Replies to “According to the media we’re going back to the early days of the century”

  1. Any way we can start ranking the journalists based on performance? Not that they perform, mind you. I just think it may be fun reading. Pundits are far easier though. I rate Roy Keane as the top drooler, followed closely by Gary Neville although Rio Ferdinand may object to my choice for top two.

  2. I’ d like to think that a selective group or a gang ought to be called a coterie . It sounds more sinister and mystical !
    A gaggle sounds ,more like nosy and noisy neighbours !

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