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Football is getting so predictable one season seems much like the last.

By Tony Attwood

In the 15 years since Arsenal’s unbeaten season – an event which has not yet been emulated of course – only four teams have won the Premier League: Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester City.  Noting this I thought it might be worth asking the question, “Does that mean that the top division has become ever more predictable?”

To answer this I took a couple of snapshots of other 15 year periods.

In the 15 years prior to Arsenal winning their first title under George Graham – that is 1973/4 to 1987/88, six teams won the league: Liverpool, Everton, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Leeds United.

In the 15 years prior to that (and in case you are losing track, that takes from 1958/9 to 1972/3), 11 teams won the league: Leeds, Arsenal, Derby, Liverpool, Everton, Wolverhampton, Burnley, Tottenham, Ipswich, Manchester United and Manchester City.

So, yes it can be argued that football in England is getting a bit stuck in a rut.  Over those three 15 year periods the number of clubs winning the title has gone from 11 to six to four.   Of course you can choose other 15 year periods, or indeed look at 10 year periods, but by and large, overall the number of clubs winning the league in any 15 year period used to be higher than now.

For example in the 15 years leading up to the second world war which included Arsenal’s period of dominance, eight different teams won the league.  In the period leading up to the first world war it was seven.  Only once does there seem to have a been a period of such a dominance as now, and that was 1975/6 to 1989/90 when only five teams won the league (Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton, Villa and Forest).  In ten of those years Liverpool won the league and my goodness was that so boring for everyone else.

Although the press and TV glorified Liverpool, while ignoring the number of times they snatched a goal in the last couple of minutes to win a match, during the period crowds at Division 1 football matches went down, down, and down – something neither the commentaries of the era nor most of those since, actually mentionedy.  The average first division crowd in 1975/6 was 27,997. By 1983/4 the average had collapsed to 18,855; in short in eight seasons crowds in the top division went down by a third.

By the end of the domination run it had recovered a little to 20,776, but it was not until 1997 that crowds in the top division exceeded the 1975/6 level.  In short it took 21 years for attendances to recover to the level they had before the period of endless Liverpool victories.   It is perhaps a point worth noting in Manchester City go on winning and winning competitions (they did the treble this season); last time this sort of dominance happened  crowds collapsed.

But back to the league tables: the fact that there have been periods of dominance by clubs in many leagues puts into context my glorious achievement of selecting the winners of six European leagues at the start of this past season, and getting all six right.  All I am adding now is the fact that dominance of the type we are seeing across all six leagues has happened in the Football League in the past.

Mulling over this issue I took a look back at the predictions the Guardian writers made at the start of this past season in terms of how the Premier League would end up.

Now predicting a whole league table one year ahead seemed to me to be pretty difficult, and they actually got six out of the 20 in the right place – which I have to say looks pretty good going.

But then I began to wonder.  I mean, I doubt that many of us would have said that they would have expected one of last year’s top six to drop out of the top six – and indeed none did.  So that in itself makes life easier.  And we know that generally promoted teams struggle.  So I thought I would look at this a little more deeply…

Here are their predictions:

Position Prediction Who got that position? Where the predicted club came Difference
1 Manchester City Manchester City 1st 0
2 Liverpool Liverpool 2nd 0
3 Manchester United Chelsea 6th -3
4 Tottenham Hots Tottenham Hots 4th 0
5 Arsenal Arsenal 5th 0
6 Chelsea Manchester United 3rd +3
7 Everton Wolverhampton 8th -1
8 West Ham Everton 10th -2
9 Leicester City Leicester City 9th 0
10 Wolverhampton West Ham 7th +3

Bottom half

Position Prediction Who got that position? Where the predicted club came Difference
11 Burnley Watford 15 -4
12 Southampton Crystal Palace 16 +4
13 Newcastle Newcastle 13 0
14 Brighton Bournemouth 17 -3
15 Fulham Burnley 19 -4
16 Crystal Palace Southampton 12 +4
17 Bournemouth Brighton 14 +3
18 Watford Cardiff 11 +7
19 Huddersfield Fulham 20 -1
20 Cardiff Huddersfield 18 +2

Only one club did the Guardian team get way out: they predicted Watford to end up in 18th, but the club ended up 11th – seven places higher.  Every other club they got within four places:

  • Six clubs had their positions predicted correctly including four of the top five.
  • Two clubs were predicted one place out.
  • Two clubs were predicted two places out.
  • Five clubs were predicted three places out.
  • Four clubs were predicted four places out.

So, does that mean that the Guardian team are geniuses, or does that mean the PL is getting easier to predict?

To try and work that out I took this past season’s league table and compared it with the one before.

Pos Team 2017/18 Difference to 2018/19
1 Manchester City 1 0
2 Liverpool 4 +2
3 Chelsea 5 +2
4 Tottenham Hotspur 3 -1
5 Arsenal 6 +1
6 Manchester United 2 -4
7 Wolverhampton Wanderers Promoted  –
8 Everton 8 0
9 Leicester City 9 0
10 West Ham United 13 +3
11 Watford 14 +3
12 Crystal Palace 11 -1
13 Newcastle United 10 -3
14 AFC Bournemouth 12 -2
15 Burnley 7 -8
16 Southampton 17 +1
17 Brighton and Hove Albion 15 -2
18 Cardiff City Promoted  –
19 Fulham Promoted  –
20 Huddersfield Town 16 -4
  • Three teams as we can see stayed in the same position as last year: Everton, Leicester and Man City.
  • Four teams changed by just one position: Tottenham, Arsenal, Palace, Southampton.
  • Four teams changed by two positions: Liverpool, Chelsea, Bournemouth, Brighton.

In short, over half of the Premier League ended up within two places of where it was the year before.  There were, in fact, only two big movers: Wolverhampton who came from the Championship to end up 7th and Burnley who dropped from 7th last season to 15th – probably as a result of slogging it out in the Europa League from July onwards, and possibly by having referees more aware of their on the field tactics which led to their manager making a big fuss about them not getting penalties.

Returning to the Guardian, they got six predictions right, which is better than using last season as a predictor, so congratulations to them.

But we should recognise that based on this one analysis of this season and last season, the chances are that if you were to predict that clubs would end up within one or two positions next season of what they did this season, you would get the majority right.

In short, from one season to another, the Premier League doesn’t change much.   In terms of league movement one team moved eight places, but looking at all the other teams that were in the league across both seasons, no one moved by more than four places.  Which may seem what we might expect, but it certainly never used to be like this.

Unless something changes, football could indeed suffer a decline in attendances, either because of the dominance of one team, as happened in the late 70s and early 80s, or simply because each season is much like the last.  Or worse, both.

In the end it is just possible that leaving aside us fanatics with our season tickets, people could simply get bored.

 

16 comments to Football is getting so predictable one season seems much like the last.

  • Mo

    If you think our league is predictable, consider the poor souls in Italy, France, Germany and Spain. In three of those countries, next season’s champions are pretty much known already and in the fourth, it’s one of two.

  • colario

    I am not too sure that a one club dominance was the only reason for the fall off in spectator numbers in the period you mention.

    I think there was also the hooligan factor that was part of football at that time and doubtless put many off attending especially fathers taking their children.

    Another factor (one that I sometime think persists today) is the attitude that clubs had towards the fans ‘take it or leave it’.

    Before the war football was what most men and boys and some women did on Saturdays, this continued on after the war but as the years ticked by so other leisure activities became available to the Saturday sportive and this contributed to the drop in numbers going to football

    I believe that the Hillsborough Tragedy has become a defining point in the history of watching football.

    It took a horrible tragedy to which the government of the day reacted to with action – not the clubs and enforced seating initially only in the then 1st Division grounds. This brought an end to stadiums being a war zone for gangs, grounds became safer and more welcoming.

    The rest we only need a reminder of. Unheard off money flowing into the clubs from TV. The development of the Premier league and being a member of the EU which meant that a star Italian player could play for his Italian team one Saturday and the next play for an English team.

    Yes the league position of a club has become more predictable than ever before but some things haven’t changed. The hope that your club despite all the odds against it will beat the system springs eternal. Watching the best players in the UK was the maxim now it is the best players in the world whom you have already seen on TV is a driving force to attend games.

    Mamcs may well become the new dominant club but will it cause a drop in league attendances? I am so sure about that.

    The F A with its head still buried firmly in the sand did all they could to stop their football being shown live on TV but TV has proved to be the best possible advert for attending football games in England.

    As a result of the changes I have mentioned Premier league football is watched world wide and provokes a desire to come to England be at a game no matter the league position of the club.

  • Do players come here from around the world to play on our league, or for the money that is thrown at them?

    I think it is more likely to be the latter.

    The problem is surely that the top players, if they come here at all, will go to one or 2 clubs only, even Manure will not be able to attract them, so teams like ours will have to rely on second-tier players, who are likely to be no better than the ones we have already.

    Did not AW repeatedly say that there was no point in buying players who were no better than the ones we had?

    Maybe now is the time to grasp the nettle and promote 4 or 5 of our good younger players, rather than buy in yet more second rate foreign ones.

    I dare say the fans would, initially at least, be happy with it.

    I just wonder whether UE is the manager to do that.

    Let us remember that he walk away from PSG, who had endless amounts of money and players already there like Neymar.

  • porter

    The teams with most money buy the best players and subsequently win the league.

    Despite that being an obvious statement it has to be tempered with the rules that we live with. I believe that we probably do have the money to buy top players but until we shed some of the higher paid members of our staff we can’t pay them.
    It seems that our problem lies in the stupid contracts that we gave to the players to compensate for the lack of transfer fees .
    Amongst our highest earners are Ozil , Mhikitarian and Kolasinac who all came free . Lacazette and Aubameyang cost money and ae highly paid.
    We have shed Ramsey and Cech so have a little leeway but we need to stabilise our wage policy before we can claim to be self sustaining.

  • Gord

    I think if you are going to analyse the league as a whole; part of that analysis needs to involve splitting the league into more than 1 part. I’ve written about Top-6 and Rest Of The Pack on Untold in the past. I think there is inherently more possibility of large changes in finishing position within ROTP than in the Top-N.

    —-

    Possibly related, on the corruption side. Apparently someone studying corruption in sports (not restricted to any one sport), has a book out. So, there was a book report out on sports being fixed in the NYPost.

    https://nypost.com/2019/06/01/every-sport-you-love-could-be-fixed/

    The article is USA centric, so you may have to make adjustments to view it in light of football in England.

  • Andy Mack

    The chief football hack at the BBC made the usual pre-season prediction of the final PL table and got more than half of them absolutely correct and all except 2 of them were pretty close (1, max 2 positions different).
    So yes the PL is getting easier to predict (or Mcnulty is getting real lucky), although this has happened occasionally in years gone by. There’s a bit of a cycle for some clubs but it always changes (maybe only ‘slightly’ for some clubs) every few years.
    The unusual thing is how he was on the money all the way down the table, not just top 3 (which he rarely gets) or top 6 (which he never gets).

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    I think Ozil did not come to Arsenal on a free transfer but came to the club on a club record signing transfer fee of over £40m paid to Real Madrid by Arsenal to get him 5 seasons or so ago. And I also don’t think Mkhitaryan was signed by Arsenal on a free transfer from Man Utd per say. But he was signed on a swap deal with Man Utd with our Alexis Sanchez going to them. Who would have cost Man U at least £40m in transfer fee if it had been a straight transfer to them. And Mkhi came to Arsenal in the swap deal on the same £40m transfer fee if Arsenal had signed him in a cash payment from Man Utd. But Kolasinac was signed on the free after he has rundown his contract at a German club side.

    Nevertheless, if Unai Emery, the Arsenal head coach will not run the club down to a mess in the PL next season’s campaign, I think it will be safe for us Gooners if we put our money on the club to at least finish in the top six next season. And we could could even see them finish in the top-four places and at the same time make an attempt to win the PL title but if the club will adequately replace 3 of the 4 departed Gunners of: Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck, Petr Cech and Lichtsteiner who have all left the club at the end of last season for various reasons.

    Therefore, the ball is in the courts of the Arsenal hierarchy bosses including Emery to play the ball in their courts individually and collectively very well for Arsenal during this summer transfer window to fish out 3 hidden top quality players of immerse talents to sign them and sign them for the club as correct replacements to the 3 that have left Arsenal.

    And apart of recruiting these 3 new top quality players of immense hidden quality and talent that are unknown to the other Arsenal top-six rivals club sides, it is being believed in the quarters of many Gooners that the club will at least promote 2 young Gunners from the club’s academy school to the first team squad next season. And in this regard, the 2 young Gunners of Eddie Nkethia to replace Welbeck or remain as understudy to the new striker that is expected to be signed this summer. And Joseph Willock who replace Aaron Ramsey in the Arsenal midfield, or be the understudy to the new top quality midfielder of immense talent but hidden who the club should sign this summer as well should all be promoted to the first team squad next season in my own view.

    And maybe Arsenal will offload at least 2 senior team Gunners at club to the transfer market for signings by other clubs this summer window but I wouldn’t know. But if the club will sign 3 new senior players and promote 2 youths team players to the senior team squad this summer for replacement and option and cover purposes so as to upgrade the first team squad properly in readiness to have a powerful audacious offensive campaign in the PL next season. But who and who in the club’s first team squad of last season should be offloaded this summer? In this wise, I think Mkhitaryan and Monreal come to mind. But if Arsenal sells the flop Mkhi and the aging Monreal, with which players will they be replaced with? Will the returned from loan to Hoffenheim Reiss Nelson replace Mkhi? And who will replace Monreal if he still has a year option on his deal to take but Arsenal refused him exercising it and discharge him which of course they should do. Or his probably as I don’t known if his contract at the club has expired. Which to me Arsenal should not renew it. Then the club has to sign a new left back of top quality grade of immense hidden quality and talent. But due to the shortage of cash in the club summer transfer kitty that could limit the club to sign only 4 new top quality players as replacements for the 3 out of the 4 who have left the club. I think Arsenal can offset this particular new leftback signing to balance up by not signing a new goalkeeper who they don’t desperately need to immediately replace Cech this summer. For, the club has some top quality goalkeepers who were loaned out last season and must have returned to the club now like Martinez and others out whom the club can keep one or two of them this summer at the club to give competition to Leno and also serve to cover for him next season.

    And as the rightback Bellerin and centreback Holding are hopefully returning to the club for next season’s campaign, but would Arsenal still need to sign a centreback this summer? But does the club has the required big money to get a top quality finish article centreback signed this summer?

  • Nitram

    jjgsol

    “The problem is surely that the top players, if they come here at all, will go to one or 2 clubs only, even Manure will not be able to attract them, so teams like ours will have to rely on second-tier players, who are likely to be no better than the ones we have already.

    Did not AW repeatedly say that there was no point in buying players who were no better than the ones we had?

    Maybe now is the time to grasp the nettle and promote 4 or 5 of our good younger players, rather than buy in yet more second rate foreign ones.”

    As you so often do, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    Although it is a bit derogatory to say ‘second rate foriegn ones’ though I understand where you are coming from.

    Basically we just cant buy the ready made superstars.

    Basicly Klopp won the Champions league when he sold Courtinho for an eye watering £127 Million, which kept his net spend down, (How they got that much for him I’ll never know, but there you go) and spent it wisely on Salah and Van dyke for £110 Million.

    Possibly the best striker and best central defender in the PL.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    I think Ozil did not come to Arsenal on a free transfer but on a club record signing transfer fee of over £40m paid to Real Madrid by Arsenal before they got him 5 seasons or so ago. And I also don’t think Mkhitaryan was signed by Arsenal on a free transfer from Man Utd per say. on a swap deal with Man Utd with Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez gone to Man Utd. Who would have cost Man Utd at least £40m in transfer fee if they had signed him in a straight transfer deal. And Mkhi came to Arsenal in the swap deal on the same terms of £40m transfer fee cost if Arsenal had signed him in a cash payment to Man Utd. But Arsenal signed Kolasinac on the free after he rundown his contract at a German club side.

    Nevertheless, if Unai Emery, the Arsenal head coach will not run the club down to a mess in the PL next season’s campaign, I think it will be safe for us Gooners if we put our money on the club to at least finish in the top six next season. And we could even see the club finish in the top-four places and in the process make an attempt to win the PL title. But the club must adequately first replace 3 of the 4 departed Gunners of: Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck, Petr Cech and Lichtsteiner who all left the club at the end of last season for various reasons.

    Therefore, the ball is in the courts of the Arsenal hierarchy bosses including that of Emery to play the ball in their courts individually and collectively very well for Arsenal during this summer transfer window to fish out 3 hidden top quality players of immerse talents for signings and sign them for the club as better replacements to the 3 who have left Arsenal.

    And apart of Arsenal recruiting these 3 new top quality players of immense hidden quality and talents that are unknown to the other Arsenal top-six rivals club sides, it is being thought in the quarters of many Gooners that the club will at least promote 2 young Gunners from the club’s academy school to the first team squad next season. And in this regard, the 2 young Gunners of Eddie Nkethia who should replace Welbeck or remain as understudy to the new top quality striker that is expected to be signed this summer. And Joseph Willock who should IMOV replace Aaron Ramsey in the Arsenal midfield, or be the understudy to the new top quality midfielder of immense quality and talent but hidden from being known who the club if fortunate to find should sign this summer as well, nevertheless, the duo should be promoted to the first team squad next season.

    And maybe Arsenal will offload at least 2 senior team Gunners at the club to this summer transfer market for signings by other clubs this summer window I wouldn’t know. But if the club will sign 3 new senior players and also promote 2 youth team players to the senior team squad this summer for replacement and option and cover purposes to upgrade the first team squad properly in readiness to have a powerful audacious offensive campaign in the PL next season. But who and who in the club’s first team squad of last season should be offloaded this summer? In this wise, I think Mkhitaryan and Monreal come to mind. But if Arsenal sells the flop Mkhi and the aging Monreal, with which players will they be replaced with? Will the returned from loan to Hoffenheim Reiss Nelson be used to replace Mkhi? And who will replace Monreal? But supposing he still has a year option to activate on his deal to take at the club, but will Arsenal allow him to activate this one year option if it is there on his deal or refuse him activating it to allow him leave? Or could it be his contract at the club has even expired which I didn’t known. But if it has, Arsenal should not renew it but look far a better than him and Kolasinac to sign this summer. If Arsenal agree with me i my thinking in this left back debacle at the club, Then the club will have to sign a new left back of top quality grade of immense hidden quality and talent to upgrade the now medium left back quality grade in the first team squad left back to the top quality grade one. But Arsenal doesn’t look will have enough money in their summer transfer kitty that will allow them sign more than 3 new top quality players this summer if Chambers who has returned to the club will stay this summer. But I think Arsenal can offset the new left back signing to balance up by not signing a new goalkeeper who they don’t urgently need to replace Cech this summer. For, the club has some top quality goalkeepers who were loaned out last season and must have returned to the club now like Martinez and others from whom one or two of them should be kept at the club this summer to give competition to Leno and also serve to cover for him next season.

    And as the rightback Bellerin and centreback Holding will return to the club hopefully for next season’s campaign, but would Arsenal still need to sign a centreback this summer? But does the club has the required big money to get a top quality finish article centreback signed this summer?

  • Casmir

    Personally I feel EPL doesn’t reward its winners enough, thus there’s less incentive to challenge for the title. There seems to be more fight to get into the champions league than to win the league by some clubs. This almost equal sharing of TV money doesn’t reward excellence. After all the difference in prize money between champions and 4th place is negligible. Also if the champions league was reserved for only league champions, I feel the hustle to win the league would be more.
    Finally I hope you’re not saying one team dominating the league was the reason for reduced stadium attendance. That would be proffering simple one dimensional answers for a complex issue, something you accuse the media of

  • Aldi

    Tony, Wenger said we messed up on Wednesday in our defeat to Chelsea. He didn’t say it was the referee. He said WE. Does that qualify him to be called AAA? Is it time to take down the banner?

  • Gord

    I would like to send condolences to Jose Antonio Reye’s family.

    There had been murmurs in the medja, about the accident. Marca is reporting that a tire puncture at 237 kph (147 mph) caused the car to collide with concrete blocks which caused the car to flip and at some point caused the car to burst into flames.

    https://www.marca.com/en/football/spanish-football/2019/06/02/5cf43ed4ca4741c4378b4574.html

  • markyb

    Nitram, Klopp spent a few bob on a new keeper as well

  • Aldi… I didn’t hear Mr Wenger’s comments, but if he said that then yes I’d go along with that. Indeed although I have not used the exact words I have certainly implied much the same, in that we messed up in terms of our away form – a subject on which I have written a number of times. So no, I don’t think either he nor myself qualify for the AAA tag. The AAA tag was designed to signify people who call themselves Arsenal supporters but who through their actions actually work to make things worse for Arsenal.
    As for the banner in the stadium, I certainly have no intention of asking the club to take it down – I think it is a fine memento of Wenger, and indeed I think the BBC TV focus on it for Mr Wenger’s last home game was a tribute 99% to him, but also 1% tribute to us for our support of all that he did.

  • Nitram

    markyb

    He did indeed.

    But even so it has to be said he has spent well and despite spending enormous amounts of money, £300 Million Gross in the last 3 years I believe, thanks to the sale of Courtinho in particular, he has kept his Nett spend (a better barometer of your transfer dealings I believe) down to a managable level and more akin to ours than Man City.

    Personally I think he spent well and got the best out of his players, at least most of the time.

    As for us, now I’m not one to say the players WE’VE been buying are bad, it’s just that some have not excelled to a level required, at least not consistently, to take us up to the level required to challange for the PL.

    By and large the players we paid big (though not massive) money on, lived up to there fees.

    Ozil did and still does polarize opinion. Personally I like him and think he gets unfair critisism at times. But I understand he is an enigma to say the least.

    The ‘cheaper’ players, for want of a better word, the freebies and the acadamy lads, were simply not consistant enough. Brilliant at times all of them. Terrible at times most of them. A real frustration.

    It has to be said as well that loosing Rambo when we did was a massive loss. Would he of got us over the line in both competitions? Replacing him will not be easy.

    Personally I think that somehow we managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in both the Premiership (top 4) and the EL.

    In the PL we somehow conspired to drop 5 points against 2 teams we should of beaten at home without a second thought. Those 5 points would not only of achieved top 4 but actually raised us to 3rd spot.

    A BAD team doesn’t get that close to 3rd in the toughest league in the World.

    On the other hand a great team doean’t blow those 2 home games.

    As for the final. I’m no tacticle expert but I like to see what Adrian Clarke has to say on Arsenal.com and what he has to say is not pretty.

    Why did it happen? If I knew I’d be a manager.

  • I totally agree

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