John Dykes looks at how the ever-widening gap between the Top 6 and the rest of the chasing pack is not ideal for the Premier League.
As the latest Premier League season comes to an end this weekend, its league table gives a stark indication of what an incredibly top-heavy campaign it has been.
With a game to play, champions Manchester City have a 19-point lead over second-placed Manchester United and, remarkably, are 37 points better off than Arsenal, the weakest of the so-called Big Six sides.
More alarming though is the fact that the gap from 10th place (currently occupied by Newcastle) to the top is 56 points, whereas the Magpies are just 11 points better off than bottom club Stoke, and only eight above the relegation drop zone.
— JohnDykes (@JohnDykesFC) May 10, 2018
This illustrates a couple of trends that became glaringly obvious within weeks of the season kicking off.
Firstly, that Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking City are unlike anything we have ever seen in this league. They have won more games, amassed more points and scored more goals than any other team has in a single season. Boasting the top four assist-makers and three of the top 10 goal-scorers in the league, they clearly have more ways of opening up opposition defences than any other side has in this competition’s history.
🚨 RECORDS BROKEN 🚨
31 wins – the most by any team in a single @premierleague season
97 points – the most points won by any team in a single Premier League season
105 goals – the most scored by any team in a single Premier League season
— Manchester City (@ManCity) May 9, 2018
Also, their competition at the top has not been entirely woeful (as was arguably the case two seasons back when Leicester won the league). United can still finish with 81 points this season and that total would have been good enough to win the league on six occasions in the 25-year history of the Premier League. Liverpool also beat City as they grew into a Champions League-challenging outfit under Jurgen Klopp and Tottenham have done well to finish in the Top Four, given the early-season problems posed by their Wembley tenancy.
For me, the biggest problem facing the Premier League is the lack of competitiveness in all areas but the need to survive. Of course, it’s by no means a given that City will win again next season (indeed, recent title defences have tended to be appalling) and there is always going to be a five-team tussle for the Champions League spots (six if Arsenal can catch up with the pack again), but that’s about it when it comes to the race to actually win something positive.
As much as the struggle to retain top-flight status engages us, leading to remarkable “escape” like those staged by Crystal Palace, Southampton and the three promoted clubs, it is ultimately a negative. By that, I mean it is now obvious that as many as 14 clubs out of the 20 will begin next season with a primary goal of retaining their Premier League status. Sorry Everton and Leicester fans, but you got into enough trouble at times this season to have feared for your mortality.
As for Burnley, well of course it has been a magnificent season and it is to the club’s immense credit that they will finish in 7th, having qualified for Europe and done so with a net transfer spend across two windows of -7 million pounds. But their goal difference is -2 and manager Sean Dyche will undoubtedly tell anyone who asks that the club’s initial target, this season and next, was and will be survival.
So, are we satisfied with this state of affairs? Will fans continue to enjoy their club’s Premier League status if each season sees them endeavor to keep the score-line respectable when they lose to City then somehow eke out enough points from the remaining 36 games to stay afloat?
West Ham were once relegated with 42 points. That total could get you in the top 10 this season.
Remember, this is not a competition where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Instead, they all get richer thanks to the Premier League’s immense popularity worldwide. However, it is a league that has attained that status thanks in large part to its competitiveness and collective idea. As long as the majority of fans are content to celebrate survival rather than silverware, the league will continue to prosper, but wouldn’t it be more compelling to was your club actually play for something in the competition that occupies most of the football season?
Now, I’m not going to suggest that the Premier League awards an actual trophy for the club that comes 7th, but how about a redistribution of prize money and broadcast rights/marketing revenues, with substantial rewards for finishing in, say, the top 10? Or maybe we need to understand that, for some clubs, relegation gives them and their fans a chance to actually compete for a league title in the Championship, and therefore the “dreaded drop” should not be feared. But that’s probably a column for another day.