The doom mongers are always ready to take aim and fire a few shots when you are at the top, people in general seem to enjoy the demise of a good thing. The Premier League has encountered such sniping this season from both inside England and also Europe. I have heard pundits, the media and fans all label this season as once of the worst in recent Premier League years, saying the Premier League is no longer the best league in world football and the quality is low. We are now in April and many teams still having a lot to play for, but with only Chelsea being the Premier League’s only remaining representative in European competition, you can see where the criticism has come from, but has the Premier League really lost it?
Let’s start off with the lack of English clubs in European competition. We have seen current league leaders Manchester United, previous league leaders Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Stoke City, Fulham, plus Championship side Birmingham City all exit either the Champions League or the Europa League. I take on board that Manchester United should have won their group and qualified, plus going out to Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League wasn’t a great advert for one of the Premier League’s biggest and best teams, but I don’t think many of us fancied Manchester United to go on and win the Europa League. It was City’s first time in the Champions League, they had the toughest group and it looked down to attitude when they went out to Sporting in the Europa – maybe they expected to win.
Arsenal qualified well and only went out to Serie A leaders Milan in the knockout stages, after a bad day at the office in the first leg and a near miracle turnaround in the second. Spurs should have done better in the Europa League, but didn’t take the competition that seriously, fielding a second XI for most games. Stoke exceeded expectations and went out to a good Valencia side, whilst little was expected from Fulham and Birmingham (the latter did well).
Chelsea have been largely below par this season in the Premier League, but have made it through to the Quarter-finals of the Champions League and will play Barcelona if they make the Semi’s tonight. German giants Bayern Munich have also qualified and Real Madrid are almost certain to join the semi-final lineup, so no real shocks. The Premier League/English football may have one representative in the semi’s of the biggest competition in world football and will be the only non-top 2 side to be there. For me, European performance should not be taken too seriously as an indicator of domestic league quality.
Back in the Premier League Wayne Rooney has said this week:
“It’s probably more challenging than it has ever been in the Premier League to win the title, you have to be at your best in every game. You can’t perform at 75 per cent of your capabilities and expect to win it. The league in general has got stronger over the last few years. You used to have the usual top four teams and then everyone else playing for the other positions. Now there is six or seven teams vying for a top-four place.”
Rooney is right, there are battles raging all over the league, maybe with the exception of only three sides; Aston Villa, West Brom and Wolves. We have Manchester United and City fighting for the title, Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea and now Newcastle battling for 2 Champions League spots. Below that we have a real race on for seventh spot and a top half finish, involving 7 teams who are separated only by 5 points that includes the likes of Liverpool and Everton. Then four teams fighting for survival who only have 1 point between them – every game for 85% of the league is now a big one.
The Premier League and Spain’s La Liga are widely considered the two best leagues in world football, but again this season La Liga has again been dominated by two teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid, which obviously makes a change. In the Premier League it was a 3-horse race until Spurs fell away and If you look at the gap between second and third in both divisions, you can see the difference in competition – the gap in the Premier League is 13 points, whilst there is a 24 point gap between second and third in La Liga. Barcelona and Real Madrid are almost unbeatable and win a lot of games by ridiculous scorelines, so much so that Real Madrid and Barcelona have contributed to 22% of all of La Liga’s goals. When compared to the Premier League, Manchester United and Manchester City have contributed to 17% of the total Premier League goals. La Liga hasn’t had the criticism, but it is arguably less competitive than last season.
One major change in the Premier League’s is that Chelsea and Arsenal are not in the running for this seasons title, making it the Premier League’s first two-horse title race at this stage since the 2006/07 season – the same season the Premier League had three Champions League semi-finalists only for Liverpool to go on and lose in the final to AC Milan. Spurs were in the hunt, but couldn’t keep the pace, whilst Chelsea and Arsenal are in transition seasons, but you can bet that all five of these sides will come back stronger next season, making the league more competitive again and that’s without teams like Liverpool, Everton and Newcastle being added to the equation.
I think when all is said and done, the shine has been stripped from this season like acid hitting a car bonnet with a series of events that have stained our beautiful game. This season has been tinged with both sadness and negativity that has spread throughout the football community. The truth is we are no worse off in either the Champions League or Europa League than we were at this stage last season, whilst the Premier League is set for its most exciting finale in a while. So lets sit back and enjoy what little we have left of the season because in all honesty, the Premier League has still got it where it counts.