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Premier League the Most Competitive in the World? You Must Be Joking

Premier League the Most Competitive in the World? You Must Be Joking

Monday, 12 November, 2018 - 08:15
Clockwise from top left: Fulham, Southampton, Newcastle, Cardiff and Huddersfield have conceded 108 goals between them. Composite: Getty Images, BPI/Rex/Shutterstock, Action Images
London- Stuart James
Amid all the gloom enveloping those at the wrong end of the Premier League table, where Fulham, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Southampton have conceded 108 goals between them, suffered 36 defeats and registered only one victory each, there is a ray of hope. On the basis of the results so far, only 22 points will be needed to stay up this season.

Although 11 fixtures is not much of a sample size from which to calculate a points-per-game ratio, the numbers do not lie and there is no getting away from just how poor the standard is in the lower reaches of the Premier League this season. The fact that this is the first time in 27 Premier League seasons that five clubs have seven or fewer points from their opening 11 matches says it all.

Newcastle, who won last Saturday for the first time this season, are somehow out of the relegation zone despite picking up only six points from 11 games. The survival bar could hardly be set any lower and it all feels so predictable. Cast the net a little further to include Burnley, who are lying in 15th place, and a strong case could be made to say that the bottom six now will be the bottom six come May, with only their order to be decided.

A glance towards the other end of the table shows how the other half live. Manchester City, the leaders, have as many points as Fulham, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Southampton – a quarter of the clubs – put together. By way of comparison, the bottom five had 10 points more than the league leaders at the same juncture last season – and Pep Guardiola’s team, who were also top then, were two points better off than they are now.

The numbers say much about what the Premier League has become this season, with one set of results in particular highlighting the growing divide that makes a mockery of the idea that English football’s top flight should be celebrated for its competitiveness.

Fulham, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Southampton have faced Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal – the top five – a total of 19 times this season. The record of the bottom five clubs in those matches reads: P19 W0 D0 L19 F12 A60. To put it bluntly, what is the point of those fixtures? What is clear is that the misery at the bottom cannot be seen in isolation from the joy at the top, where the big boys are racking up points like never before.

This is the first time in the Premier League era that three clubs – Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool – are still unbeaten after 11 games. Never before have five Premier League clubs had 23 points or more at this stage.

Reeling off all the facts and figures is one thing; trying to make sense of them is quite another. The obvious conclusion to draw initially is that the top clubs are getting better and the bottom five, collectively, are as bad as we have ever seen. That, however, seems a little simplistic and is almost certainly not true.

For a start, are Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal really that brilliant? The Champions League this season suggests otherwise. Lyon, fourth in Ligue 1, beat Manchester City. Red Star Belgrade, who are hardly a European powerhouse, and Napoli, third in Serie A, defeated Liverpool, while Spurs’ hopes of reaching the knockout stage are hanging by a thread.

All of which throws the spotlight back on to the Premier League and specifically what is happening outside of the top five, or the top six as the case will soon be when Manchester United, one place behind high-flying Bournemouth, get their act together domestically. In the past couple of years there has been a movement towards a two-tier league in which mid-table has almost ceased to exist, yet that is definitely not the case this season, with Brighton, Wolves, Leicester, Everton and Watford already comfortably clear (eight to 13 points) of the bottom four and, realistically, not going to seriously threaten the monopoly of the big six.

The notable shift this season has taken place lower down, where a group of clubs are in danger of being cut adrift even before the leaves have finished falling from the trees, with their plight so desperate that league victories in November are celebrated like winning cup finals in May. They are playing survival football with 27 matches remaining.

In the case of Cardiff, who punched above their weight to win promotion, and Huddersfield, who did the same to retain their Premier League status last season, it is no real surprise to see them in the bottom three. Fulham, however, expected better than to be propping up the league after spending £100m in the summer and it says little for Slavisa Jokanovic’s team that the only victories Cardiff and Huddersfield have managed this season have come at their expense.

As for the others, the writing has been on the wall for some time at Southampton, who avoided the drop by the skin of their teeth last season, and Newcastle’s woes feel just as predictable on the back of a summer of discontent and under-investment. Burnley and Crystal Palace are not much better off and in many years would have found themselves in the bottom three with eight points from 11 games.

This, however, is unlike any other Premier League season and there is not much to celebrate about that.

(The Guardian)

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