As we consider the idea that we may be on the cusp of our most exciting season yet can we feel proud that our league is the most competitive in the world or should we lament the drop in standards of certain teams? A decade ago the title race was a two-horse one between Arsenal and Manchester United, each taking their turn holding the trophy with mostly United coming out on top. Then came Roman Abramovich, then Sheik Mansour. Now as we look at our league we can see vast improvements in other teams to leave us with a situation where we have Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and the Manchester clubs competing for the title and Champions League places. Then we have a whole host of other teams who have improved beyond what was previously thought possible. Teams like Stoke have been climbing gradually until they are now in a position where they are a force to be reckoned with in both the league and Europe.
So what’s the problem? Competition makes sport more enjoyable, more unpredictable, more entertaining. However, has this increased competition in the league come at a price? In what other league would the reigning champions lose 6-1 at home to a team that is struggling in Europe? What I mean is: in becoming more competitive it seems that some of our teams have become worse.
Best league in the world?
I can’t think of many English football fans, or indeed football fans, that would not say that the Premier League is the ‘best’ league in world football. It is the most commercial, the most competitive, the most exciting and is home to many of the world’s best players. But do we have the best teams? I’m not sure that we do, and whilst it’s nice to have a tough league how can our competition be the best if the best teams don’t play in it?
Man Utd, undoubtedly one of the world’s best teams, have not only been humiliated at home but have also allowed more shots on their goal this season than any other team. Manchester City look good but are struggling on their maiden Champions League excursion, Chelsea are aging at an alarming rate, Liverpool look as mediocre as ever despite spending vast sums of money and Arsenal are going to get worse before they get better. Can we say that any of our teams would beat Spain’s top two at the moment? Or Bayern Munich?
Times have changed
I’m not saying that I expect the Premier League champions each year to reach the points totals that were possible even five years ago but you do expect our clubs to use this competitive nature in our league to better themselves. The old guard need to rise to the challenge of the up and coming teams. They need to progress and they need to reach the high standards that Barcelona and Real Madrid are setting. Otherwise we run the risk of merely swapping teams at the top like Man City for clubs like Arsenal. That doesn’t make the league competitive it just means a change in era. Our league is the most watched in the world because of the style of football and because we have the best teams, or should.
This could be our most exciting Premiership season yet, but is it for all the wrong reasons? I’m not saying for one minute that Man Utd are a team in decline or that the Premier League is getting worse. What I am saying is that teams like Man Utd and Arsenal and Liverpool have been stagnating for years now and they need to use the rise of other teams as a catalyst to push them back to the top. Have Man Utd really been that good since Tevez and Ronaldo left? Is their defence good enough? Have Arsenal ever recovered from the loss of their Henry/Vieira/Bergkamp generation?
It would be interesting to consider if teams such as Man City and Tottenham had not progressed whether our top teams would actually be better? Certainly there has been a dilution of the best players available to the top clubs, the market is tough and the top clubs have to fight hard amongst each other for the players thy want. Ultimately it comes to the question of how many teams can we have competing for the top before the standard of those top teams has to be watered down? And would we rather watch the most competitive league in the world or watch the best teams in the world?
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