I’m looking at the Premier League table right now, which will be very close to the Premier League table that sees in the New Year in under a week’s time.
I see a team streets ahead of everyone else, and a mini-league below them that’s ‘the best of the rest’.
And then I see everyone else.
The thing that marks the best team in the league and the best of the rest apart from every other team?
Studying the table is actually highly instructive, and shows just how the Premier League has changed over the last few years.
Premier League looks two tier.
Massive gulf between the big boys and the rest
— typical palace (@typicalpalace) November 18, 2017
At the time of writing, only seven clubs have a positive goal difference: Man City, Man United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and Burnley.
City’s goal difference is ludicrously positive, with +48, and aside from Burnley with a difference of +1, the rest of the top seven have a goal difference of at least double figures.
Down the other end of the league, it’s a completely different story.
Aside from Everton and Watford, every other club has a negative goal difference that equals or exceeds -10, with most sides conceding at least 25 goals in the 20 games so far.
What am I getting at here? It’s simple really: the gulf in class between the top seven and the rest of the league is getting more severe, and this has been seen in the thrashings Man City have delivered at numerous times this season, and fairly painfully (for Southampton fans), in Spurs’ demolition of Saints on Boxing Day.
Spurs hit Southampton hard on Boxing Day! pic.twitter.com/o8OzdFyJaX
— B/R Football (@brfootball) December 26, 2017
Up until recently, it would be fair to say that there ‘are no easy games in the Premier League’, but this is becoming less and less true.
Man City are yet to lose this season, and have scored an average of over two goals in every single game, with half the season played.
And whilst the rest of the top seven haven’t been in quite such impervious form, they have nevertheless performed well against the bottom half of the table – in the majority of cases, United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs’ losses have come against the sides at the top of the table, not the bottom.
FULL-TIME Man City 4-0 Bournemouth
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 23, 2017
Is this a good thing?
I’m not convinced.
One of the things that has historically made the Premier League great has been the fact that anything can happen on match day.
And it was this characteristic that elevated the league beyond the formulaic and predictable European leagues, like Serie A, La Liga and Bundesliga.
In a lot of leagues around Europe, a duopoly is the best that most fans can hope for, with a huge gulf in class between the crème de la crème and the rest of the league.
And whilst the Premier League hasn’t quite reached the level of a duopoly yet, what is clear is that the better teams are getting better, and the worse teams are staying bad (or getting worse).
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 26, 2017
Take it to its logical conclusion, and you end up in a situation where there are very few meaningful matches each season – it turns into a sea of Super Sundays, with every fixture between teams that are not both top six into an irrelevance.
Make no mistake, if this trend continues, it will harm the Premier League as a spectacle and as a product.
So what can be done? Well, I’ve got a few ideas…
The first and most obvious fix would be to enforce Financial Fair Play properly.
Clubs must be run like businesses, and must submit positive balance sheets, with severe repercussions if they are unable to do so.
This has been in force for a while – at least in theory – but because it is not enforced, it means little.
A second idea would be to dole out the TV money differently. This would be met with absolute outcry, but would certainly allow clubs at the bottom of the division to compete financially.
And finally, my idea with the most merit, one I’ve been thinking about for a while.
Change the way the Champions League places work.
Give automatic qualification to the sides that finish first and second, but give the second two spots to the winner of the League Cup and the FA Cup.
Doing this would elevate the competitions, increase the likelihood of new faces in Europe, improve sides down at the bottom of the league, and create a better overall product.
What do you say, Premier League?