D3D4 Columnist Darren Young gives his take on the so called “best league in the world” in his latest article for D3D4 Football…
Imagine there’s no shock results. It’s easy if you try
John Lennon once said, tongue-firmly-in-cheek I suspect but you never know, when asked if Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world that he ‘wasn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles’.
That phrase springs to mind when I hear the English Premier League described as the ‘best league in the world’ because I wonder if it’s even the best league in England. It feels to me that the unpredictability of the Premier League has all but vanished. The old adage has been that ‘anyone can beat anyone’ and this is often trotted out by ex-players on TV and radio like a tagline but can they really?
Yet, since Leicester won everyone’s hearts and destroyed their future dreams at the same time, two years ago, it feels like not everyone can beat anyone anymore. As a result of The Fox’s shenanigans, the big boys have got bigger; as have their budgets, spending power and concentration levels.
It began to seem that rather than anything happening, there was far more chance of a four-nil win than the underdog prevailing. But I thought I’d better back up this hunch with some facts and figures.
But first, it helps to segment. Based on recent league tables, we can basically say that the league is really two leagues; the one that goes down to seventh place and is a battle for honours and Champions League places (or if you’re Arsene Wenger, those two are the same thing) and the relegation scrap between the rest.
Last season, the eighth placed team (Southampton) were 15 points behind seventh. They were six points better off than Watford who occupied the last position outside of the relegation zone. This season, before we reach Christmas, that seventh to eighth gap is already five points. So, everyone below seventh is in danger, in theory at least, of being dragged into trouble on the back of a bad run of defeats. Everton and the aforementioned Leicester will feel they are better than that, but both have been in the bottom three this season before changing manager.
In the one hundred and eighty games played so far this season, which results prove that anyone really can beat anyone? Here are the only ones that fall anywhere near that category:
12/8 Chelsea 2 Burnley 3
19/8 Stoke 1 Arsenal 0
14/10 Crystal Palace 2 Chelsea 1
14/10 Watford 2 Arsenal 1
21/10 Huddersfield 2 Manchester United 1
9/12 West Ham 1 Chelsea 0
Even taking these scores, that’s a ‘shock’ result once every thirty games and while I’ll leave it to Barnsley to go all Billy Beane on these things, the numbers don’t lie.
And how many of the above can be genuinely classed as shock results. Arsenal finished outside of the top four last season and are always coming a cropper against a team who ‘puts it up ‘em’ and Chelsea – although undoubtedly a force – are suffering that season after winning the league syndrome that has affected them before as well as Leicester last season.
Add to that the fact that Burnley are this year’s surprise contender for the top seven, and caught Chelsea at the perfect moment on the opening day, and you can probably boil the real jaw-dropping results to their other unexpected defeats at Palace and West Ham plus United’s defeat in Yorkshire.
We’re left with what? At best, three examples? More like exceptions that prove the rule.
Of course, anybody else can beat anybody but that’s no surprise as they are all technically playing relegation six-pointers when they meet. But all leagues are like that when it comes to results between teams outside the top few. At the top end, it’s almost procession-like already with Manchester City not only threatening to match ‘The Invincibles’ but to do it by winning every game they have left. And if they continue to recruit as they have been, this dynasty might last a while.
Two years ago, we were fooled into thinking a team could rise from the bottom and win the league. It made everyone from Barnsley to Barnstaple think the impossible was possible but it actually – inadvertently and unfortunately – acted as the wake-up call to the country’s richest clubs to make sure their on-field and off-field performance never allowed such a thing to happen again.
And I don’t think it will. Not in my lifetime unless the rules change and the goalposts move somewhat. The rich-get-richer structure doesn’t really favour competitiveness. Let’s call Leicester the tipping point. In two years, we’ve gone from that to a stage where only the City of Manchester has a chance of winning it and realistically, only one team from there.
Beane’s Oakland A’s certainly couldn’t do what they did in English football. It’s not Manchester City’s fault, or any clubs for that matter but only the very biggest in the Premier League could hope to win twenty consecutive games as they well might, and then only with a genius manager and a billion pounds worth of talent.
We’ve reached a stage where City’s kids can beat Leicester’s first team. Pep is already fending off quadruple questions, and the odds for it have dropped to 33/1. Teams who go to the Etihad are being given odds of more than 20/1 of winning in a two-horse race – and we know the bookies rarely get it wrong.
But another noticeable thing is the growing number of big wins. Four nil is one of the most common scores but there have been a few fives, sixes and even sevens too. Here are the one’s so far involving the big boys:
13/8 Manchester United 4 West Ham 0
19/8 Swansea 0 Manchester United 4
27/4 Liverpool 4 Arsenal 0
9/9 Manchester City 5 Liverpool 0
16/9 Watford 0 Manchester City 6
17/9 Manchester United 4 Everton 0
23/9 Manchester City 5 Crystal Palace 0
23/9 Stoke City 0 Chelsea 4
30/9 Huddersfield 0 Tottenham 4
30/9 Manchester United 4 Crystal Palace 0
14/10 Manchester City 7 Stoke City 2
18/11 WBA 0 Chelsea 4
29/11 Arsenal 5 Huddersfield 0
2/12 Brighton 1 Liverpool 5
9/12 Tottenham 5 Stoke City 1
13/12 Swansea 0 Manchester City 4
17/12 Bournemouth 0 Liverpool 4
Seventeen. That’s nearly three times as many big wins than shocks (if you include all the ‘shocks’) and almost one four goal margin or more (more than four and a half goals if you’re a gambler) every round of matches. The big win is always there, you just have to pick which game.
Even the top seven is breaking into mini-leagues of its own. There is Manchester City and er, that’s about it in the top one.
Then there is the battle to finish second between Chelsea and Manchester United. The third league – the race for the Champions League play-off spot – is a little more interesting with Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal plus one guest (for now). Of course, unless Arsenal throw all their eggs after Christmas into the Europa League/Champions League Back Door basket.
So, while I’m not questioning some of the entertainment and quality on offer, I am definitely calling the best league in the world boast into question.
Not that there is that much competition, to be fair.
Ligue 1 has been belittled by financial unfair play. The Bundesliga has been a one-horse race for five years and Serie A has been the same for even longer. Ask fans in Scotland how exciting that is after a while. Celtic even played with their wrong feet against Hearts to try to level things up.
Which probably leaves La Liga (if you like your leagues to only have two possible outcomes) vying for the accolade with The Championship, England’s real anyone-can-beat-anyone league.
But for how long? As clubs continue to parachute in from the Premier League, the gap between the haves and have nots will only grow and in time, you’ll be able to put that division’s games on your accumulators much more confidently than you can now.
But at the moment, you can still see the likes of QPR, in the bottom half at the time and on a winless run, beat the top two teams in less than a week (Wolves and Sheffield United). Imagine Swansea putting one over The City of Manchester on the Saturday and following Tuesday.
You can’t? You just don’t get that in the Premier League. While Billy Beane is in Barnsley, the Premier League could do a lot worse than ask him to consult on how to make the competition closer, less predictable and with more than one possible winner by Christmas.
Enjoy the festive period and best wishes for 2018.