Has the Premier League ever been stronger?
The Premier League is meant to be the best league in world. It’s attracts the top players and earns the highest TV rights while being watched by fans in every country across the globe. The blood and guts style of English football has gone a long way to impressing it’s far flung spectators and the possibility of any team winning on their day has provided a competitive nature that makes for an exciting contest.
The fact a side like Wigan Athletic now has every chance of beating the likes of Manchester United has added an unpredictable quality to matches but is this progression a sign that the lesser teams are getting stronger or that the Premier League is getting weaker?
It’s a difficult distinction to make but comparatively speaking the top sides seem to be getting worse. While the Sunderland’s and Fulham’s of yesteryear would give their present day equivalents an even run for their money, most fans would agree that the Arsenal Invincibles or the Manchester United treble winners would brush aside their modern replacements. This logic may stem more from nostalgia than factual evidence but the manner with which these sides dominated their respective eras gives them a distinctive reputation.
In reality Manchester United won their last league title with just 80 points, the lowest for over a decade and a long way behind Chelsea’s record haul of 95 points in 2003/04. This may give an impression of decreasing standards and very few would even try to compare the Red Devils of 2010/11 with their treble winning heroes of 1998/99. Strangely that legendary side amassed a mere 79 points on their way to League and Cup triumph and while they may have been spread thin across more than one competition, they’re still regarded as a far better side than their predecessors despite claiming less points overall. Schmeichel, Keane, Beckham, Yorke and Cole, Sheringham and Solskjaer, all have found their place in Old Trafford folklore and yet subsequent squads have performed more successfully across an entire League season to far less acclaim. If the current squad is deemed to be the worse of the two and yet can finish with more points over a season, what does that say about the standard of the Premier League?
Logically the overall standards must be getting worse but Arsenal’s unbeaten season is an unrivalled achievement despite the likes of Lehmann, Vieira, Bergkamp and Henry only earning the Gunners 90 points in comparison to last season’s champions Manchester City who finished with 89. Not only was that equal with their archrivals United but both halves of Manchester also lost 5 times and still finished only 1 point shy of the North Londoners’ legendary side. If both can afford a handful of losses yet still almost earn as many points as the Arsenal greats then perhaps the standards haven’t really changed as much as some suspect.
After all many fans feel the League is currently at its most successful, especially since the powers that be recently signed the biggest TV rights deal in their history proving how lucratively popular their product still is. While this improvement may be the natural progression of financial investment, the increasing popularity can also be attributed to the competitive nature of League and as more teams challenge for the title or at the very least a top four spot, the closer the League becomes and the harder it is to win. 10 years ago sides like Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea would rarely offer much of a fight against the League leaders but nowadays they’re genuine rivals and as such the eventual champion must earn their title by giving their all week in week out. Naturally professional football teams always give 100% but there was often a sense that the top sides could walk certain fixtures over the course of a season whereas now they know they must be at their best every time they step out onto the field. The likes of West Brom and Stoke City have become difficult fixtures but it all boils down to whether or not they’ve become stronger by learning to compete with what they’ve got or in fact the top sides have just become easier to tackle?
The answer is its all relative. Nostalgia says old United are better than new United but in reality they had less opposition. While new United don’t seem as strong on paper, they’ve still competed for the title with a supposedly inferior squad and earned more points. It’s impossible to know whether or not City’s title winners would beat Arsenal’s Invincibles but even if the old school were better man for man, neither side outperformed their rivals with any more distinction than the other so relatively speaking they’re extremely similar.
Regardless of whether fans believe the standards have dropped, the League winner must still outperform nineteen other sides so if those sides are more difficult to beat than in previous years then surely the League as a whole is stronger, even if the winning team is not.
Do you think the Premier League’s standards have dipped? Are matches more competitive or have the better teams got worse?
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