Liverpool FC is running riot this season. Unbeaten for the entirety of 2019, it is almost sure that they are finally going to clinch the Premier League title this season. While The Reds narrowly lost out to Manchester City last season, their closest competitors Leicester City are 13 points behind. It doesn’t seem like Liverpool are going to crumble under pressure this time around. They have one crucial element of many previous title winners – luck. Even when they do not deserve to win games, lady luck somehow comes to their side and gifts them with an opportunity to snatch a victory or salvage a draw (evident with the United game).
Liverpool’s dominance is worth analyzing, however, not only because of the work that Jurgen Klopp has done since his arrival in 2015 but because it underscores the weakness of the rest of the league. While The Reds have dominated many games and put in quality performances to win games, they also have put in poor performances and yet escape the clutches of defeat. It does beg the question of whether Liverpool are lucky or has the English Premier League declined in quality? I believe in the latter for two reasons: The inconsistency of the Top 6 and the lack of a mid-table.
The Topsy Turvy 6
Barring Liverpool and to some extent Manchester City, the rest of the Top 6 – Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspurs have been gravely inconsistent. The fact that Spurs, United and Chelsea still occupy the top 6 berths illustrates how weak the rest of the league is. When we look at the results of each of these clubs, it is appalling how they remain in the top 6. It sheds light on the rest of the league not having the quality to capitalize on the shortcomings of the bigger clubs.
Chelsea (11W 3D 7L), Man Utd (8W 7D 6L), Spurs (8W 6D 7L)
Well before the start of the season, there were serious question marks on whether Man Utd and Arsenal would drop out of the top 6 given the end to last season. While Ole seemingly engineered United’s resurgence with a remarkable unbeaten streak after taking over from Mourinho, he has since yet to replicate and sustain that wonderful spell of form. While some may argue that this was always going to be a period of transition, the fact is that Man United have been undergoing a series of transitions since Sir Alex’s retirement. Even though the United Board are ultimately responsible for sacking and hiring various managers in the last five years, one cannot deny how the huge demands for instant success have plagued the beautiful game.
Managers are not given enough time to develop and instil their footballing philosophies at clubs anymore. This trend is even more brazen in the Premier League where managers are barely given half a season before the boards aze them. Under such circumstances, do United stick with Ole, someone well versed with the footballing traditions at United, and hope that he can turn the club’s fortunes around. It is undoubtedly true that Manchester United have fallen from grace and that Manchester is now Blue. English football needs a strong Manchester United to not only challenge in Europe but improve the overall quality in the league.
Chelsea were contenders for Top 6 fallouts due to the transfer ban and the appointment of club legend, but relatively inexperienced, Frank Lampard. On top of that, they lost Eden Hazard who arguably carried the club to their top 4 finish last season. This season, his absence has been cushioned by Mason Mount’s good form and Tammy Abraham’s remarkable showing upfront. Despite the promising development of some young players and winning 11 of their games, Chelsea lack consistency. Despite this, Chelsea’s inconsistency was expected for a team made of young inexperienced players who have been living life on loan.
Spurs joined that discussion with their poor form at the beginning of the season. Given how he engineered Spurs’ road to the Champions League final last season, Pochettino’s sacking shocked the footballing world. Sure, it was not unwarranted given Spurs struggles in the Premier League, but given how much he has done for the club, Poch was ruthlessly let go. Mourinho was brought in to improve the club’s fortunes, but since his arrival, Spurs have exhibited no real tangible improvement. In fact, they have allowed the most number of goals in the Premier League since his appointment.
Arsenal, on the other hand, have been thoroughly disappointing. Unlike United who are lacking squad depth, Arsenal have floundered under Unai Emery despite a wealth of options in every position. Granted, they attempted to address the holes in defence and midfield through their summer transfer window; their signings have failed to plug the gaps effectively. Towards the end of Emery’s tenure, Arsenal seemed better of with Arsene Wenger. The club now finds them in 10th position. Mikel Arteta has his work cut out for him, and he most definitely needs to overhaul this squad and start anew. It is by no means an overnight process, and it will take a few seasons before Arsenal relive their glory days again.
It’s a weird reversal of fortunes with Liverpool being the brunt of many jokes at the start of the decade as they were plagued by many issues that the rest of the Top 6 currently face, a lack of squad depth, players failing to gel, and undergoing a multitude of managers before sticking with Klopp. The Top 6 are an essential cornerstone in English Football. The league improves overall if strong teams are vying for the title. One only has to look at the state of Scottish and French leagues to understand how a one or two-horse race does not help the league.
The Absence of a Mid-Table
In addition to having strong title contenders and clubs that consistently strive for European positions, the mid-table is another hallmark of a strong league. The issue with the Premier League is that the mid-table is either comprised of European contenders or relegation contenders. This is problematic because the bottom half of the league are mostly relegation contenders. Even though the league becomes more entertaining because you cannot predict the clubs that are going down, there is a stark gulf in the disparity between the top and bottom halves.
Naturally, one would assume that clubs in the bottom half of the league become the whipping boys for the Top half, especially for the Top 6 clubs but that is far from the case. Even in the case of Liverpool, they have put on poor showings against clubs like Crystal palace and had to grind out wins. The mid-table has eroded for quite some time now. It would be fair to argue that the lack of a mid-table has caused an overall drop in the standards of the bigger clubs.
However, due credit has to be given to Leicester City. Their 2015-16 title victory is the stuff of fairy tales, and while they haven’t reached the same heights in the previous seasons, they have put in excellent displays this term. I honestly believed that they had a real outside chance of snatching the titles from Liverpool before the start of the Club World Cup. Those hopes were dashed once they lost 3-1 to Man City. It would be another fairy tale moment for the club in the improbable event they beat Liverpool to the title. Afterall, given Brendan Rodgers’ history at Anfield, it would be fitting that he was the man who denied Liverpool their first League title in 30 years.
Allow me to clarify. The issue is not with sides like Leicester, Sheffield and wolves entering the top half of the table, but more so the fact that the reason they can do so is mostly due to the failings of the bigger clubs. Had these non-traditional top half clubs break into the top half while the Top 6 clubs were putting in quality performances every week, there wouldn’t be an issue. The problem is that the Premier League’s top 6 are not delivering consistently and it boils down to inadequate quality rather than a tough league.
The Premier League right now is ridiculed even though it is the most profitable league in the world. Foreign clubs are well aware of the financial strength of the Premier League clubs and demand enormous fees for players. Even with so much money, Premier League clubs are not run well. One has to look at Manchester United as an example of a poorly run club. Even though rakes in substantial revenue for the club, Ed Woodward is an ineffective Chief Executive when it comes to the footballing side of things. David Gill’s boots are too big for him. Manchester United has seen the appointment of 5 managers (inclusive of Ryan Giggs as caretaker) in the last six years but Ed Woodward surprisingly still has his job.
The only way for the Premier League to grow as a League, and regain its stature, is to ensure that every club improves. Certain measures could be enforced to improve the quality of the league such as more strict measures on signings. There should be increased focus on the running of the club from finances to youth development to transfer negotiations. As much as it pains me to write this but clubs need only look to Liverpool as a great example of how a club is run. Top talents around the world seek to grow their game and development. It is not solely about the amount of wages you can offer. If they wanted a staggering pay cheque players today have options in the MLS, Chinese Super League and the Middle Eastern Leagues. The Premier League needs to ensure it is competitive so that the players are still attracted to the ply their trade in England.