The English Premier League is often cited as ‘the greatest league in the world’ and the vast media that cover England’s top division sustain this brag. They will highlight the great history and the widespread finance available; dwarfing that of any other league on the planet, giving teams the ability to attract top players and coaches across the globe to the league.
Nonetheless, we have now reached a point where the finance and quality of the top six teams heavily outweigh the rest of the division and for all its virtues, the English Premier League, overall, has never been less competitive than it is today.
The term ‘best league in the world’ became vogue at the end of the 1990s. English sides were getting results and winning trophies in Europe’s elite competitions and the finances available to English clubs was beginning to surpass its competitors on the continent.
Yet, arguably, 2012 heralded the point of decline of English success in Europe and the quality of the league in general. This may sound a peculiar thing to say. Chelsea, that year won the Champions League, beating Bayern Munich on their home turf. Culminating in the high-point in their history which was followed a year later by Europa League success.
However, the year Chelsea won the Champions League they finished 6th in the league. There will be those that argue this illustrates the strength of the Premier League. Nonetheless, the facts were Chelsea at that time had an ageing squad that in winning the Champions League provided a final fling of success for a team that was well-versed in the competition but had never quite managed to conquer it during its peak, despite many a near miss (John Terry’s penalty and Andres Iniesta’s toe-poke into the top corner immediately come to mind).
Yet these consecutive successes in Europe for Chelsea were aberrations.
The 2013 triumph in the Europa League only came after crashing out the Champions League. Furthermore, in 2012, Chelsea finished a whopping 35 points behind both Manchester clubs; who that season had failed to qualify past the group stages in Champions League and went into the Europa League, where both failed to get to the latter stages.
Following Chelsea’s win in Munich, English sides have struggled in Europe, particularly in the Champions League. From 2012 until Liverpool reached (and then lost) the final in 2018, English sides have managed just three quarterfinal appearances and one semifinal appearance between them.
This is in stark comparison to the previous period. Between 2005 – 2012, an English side made the Champions League Final in seven out of eight seasons. It wasn’t just one club either, those seven finals saw four different English clubs appear.
The dominant team of this time in the Premier League were once again Manchester United and they made the Champions League Final three times and the semi-finals four times in just five seasons. While three English sides made up the four semi-finalists in three consecutive seasons (2007-2009).
Many would counter-argue that this success is beginning to return. All Premier League clubs who were a part of this years group stages have entered into the final 16 yet this only shows that the top sides in England are once again competitive in Europe.
As far as the rest of the Premier League is concerned, it has become increasingly and considerably weaker compared to the 2005-2012 period.
During this golden period, there were sides outside the top four teams getting to the latter stages in the UEFA Cup and more recently the Europa League, most notably Middlesborough and Fulham. Since 2012, however, the record of English sides outside the top six in Europe is dreadful;
2012/2013 – Wigan, finished bottom of their group.
2013/2014 – Everton, knocked out in the last 16.
2014/2015 – West Ham, knocked out in the second qualifying round to a part-time Maltese side.
2016/2017 – Southampton, knocked out of the group stage (winning just two games).
2017/2018 – Everton, knocked out of the group stage (winning just one game).
2018/2019 – Burnley, knocked out in the third qualifying round.
Although the top six clubs are now competitive in Europe once more, domestically, they are pulling far away from the rest. Since 2014, only one relegated side in the Premier League has picked up over 35 points. Comparing this to seasons gone by, some clubs were relegated with points in the high 30’s and sides were even relegated despite reaching the ‘magical’ 40 points mark – illustrating a lack of depth that now occupies the division.
Manchester City last season will be remembered for smashing various records but the lack of quality below the top six was astonishing. Only Burnley, outside the top six, got over 50 points. Burnley comfortably finished 7th, despite an 11 game streak without winning. They only won 5 (all in a row) of their last 21 games, but still finished 7th at a canter.
Worryingly, this season has seen these trends continue. For the first time in top-flight history, the top three teams were unbeaten after 12 games. In the season where Leicester won the league (notably in a period where the league was in decline), by October 24th they had amassed 18 points (only losing one game). Watford amassed the same number of points at the same stage of this season and sat 7th.
These plethoras of statistics all point to the gravely concerning lack of depth and competitiveness in Premier League. Not only that, but it also questions the viability and future of the league. The top clubs, with wealthy owners whose financial muscle is only increased by the vast television deals and the global brands that result in this overexposure, are leaving the rest of English football behind.