English Premier League – Most Competitive in the World?

premier-league.jpgThis is my first submission to EPL Talk, so I would like to extend a big thanks and cheers to the Gaffer for inviting me to join the team.  I’m excited to be a member of a top notch network of football enthusiasts and commentators.  I hope I can help maintain the high standards set at this site.

The English Premier League was founded in 1992 and has now completed 16 seasons.  Since the inception of the EPL, it has developed into the biggest and widely televised annual competition in the world.  With matches broadcast throughout the globe its attraction and popularity to a worldwide audience is immeasurable.

As a lifelong fan of the English league, I watch many matches and devote several hours a week researching and reading commentaries and perspectives on the beautiful game.  On any given week, the football experts will inevitably tell us fans that the EPL is the most competitive league in the world – depending on the announcer you might hear this a hundred or so times in a given game….we get it already!

As an unknowing fan, I guess I should just accept this as gospel from the media anointed experts of the sport and be happy watching the latest product from the most “competitive” league.  You know what though…that depends on your view and if we peel back the numbers we might revisit the definition of “competitive.”

At the heart of this discussion is the establishment and membership of the English “Big Four,” the globalization of the English game, and the accelerated riches of the European Champions League.  Success in the domestic league results in qualification for the Champions League – actually partial success is all that is required as it’s really the Champions League plus a load of runners-up, but you get the point.  This, in turn, results in even greater revenues for the elite group of ECL participants.  Bigger revenues, bigger salaries, players demanding European football and the divide between the “Big Four” and the rest of the league grows larger each year.

Now we don’t need a calculator to get through this stuff but when we crunch some numbers the domination of the elite few is astounding.

A few notes:

  • 42 clubs have graced the top flight since the breakout of the Premier League
  • Only 11 of the 42 have managed a top 4 finish in 16 years
  • 4 clubs have won the title in the 16 seasons of competition
  • 15 of the 16 titles have been won by Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea
  • 10 of the 16 titles have been won by Manchester United
  • Blackburn Rovers won the other one in 1994/95
  • No English manager has guided a team to the English Premier League title
  • In the past 5 seasons on only one occasion has a member of the “Big Four” failed to finish in the top four (Liverpool finished 5th in 2004-05)
  • Manchester United have never finished lower than 3rd

EPL Top 4 Finishes by Team

Competitive?  You sure about that?  Don’t get me wrong, I am a fervent follower of the English game but the powers that be are getting a bit carried away by delivering the constant mantra of EPL competitiveness.  The top English clubs are now massive sports franchises that dominate the global game.  Top players are lured to the Premier league by riches that no other league can rival.

I have no issue with the best talent in the world earning their paycheck in England (or can at least save it for another review) as I’m all for the EPL being the finest in the world, but the problem is, until very recently; these top players have all been recruited by the same elite football country club known as the “Big Four.”

EPL Top 4

A quick look at the above chart shows that Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool have consistently occupied the top four positions with complete domination in four of the past five seasons with the sides taking the top places on 19 out of 20 opportunities.  Liverpool slipped to 5th in 2004-05 – the year they had to plead to be included in the Champions League so they could defend their European title.

Could things change this year?  History tells me I’m certainly not betting against the EPL silverware going anywhere outside of the usual trophy cabinets.

However, as we approach the 1/3 mark in the top flight of English football (give or take a decimal point or two), a strange phenomenon could be developing.  The most competitive league in the world seems to be, well… competitive.  After 12 rounds of Premiership action just 9 points separate the fifth placed UEFA Cup qualifying spot currently held by Villa from foot of the table West Brom.  Although two of the usual suspects are setting the early pace with Chelsea and Liverpool at the top, there is enough early evidence to suggest that this year we could continue to see the kind of fluctuations in the standings that are usually reserved for the Championship tier.  This development might just lead us to believe that maybe the Premier League is finally becoming competitive after 16 years.

In a future article, as a follow-up, I’ll take a look at comparisons to other top flight European leagues.

So, until then enjoy the “competition” and Cheers!

6 thoughts on “English Premier League – Most Competitive in the World?”

  1. Hey, nice first post. Good to see a more statistical analysis rather than simply a review, preview or judgment (not that they're bad). Brings a new dimension to EPL Talk.

  2. Good first post. A couple of points you raised were outstanding. First of all, that only 9 points separate 5th place Aston Villa from 20th place WBA. 9 points from European football to the Fizzy Pop League. What I would love to know is how that difference in points compares to other years after 12 matches. Yes, this is close right now, and there is no Derby County-bad team, but how does it compare to previous years?

    A league can be competitive in several different ways. The NFL here in the US claims, rightly so, that on any given Sunday, anyone can beat anyone. I believe the same is true in the EPL, which is one of my definitions of competitiveness. WBA can beat Chelsea, although they are unlikely to do so. The tightness of the table, after the Big 4, shows the competitiveness as well.

    However, the league is not very competitive, as you pointed out, in terms of European Football and league titles. ManU has dominated the Premier League and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal don't show any signs of slipping down the table this season or anytime soon. In that respect the league is not all that competitive. When “Fifth is the new First” is the mantra of most of the league, it shows that there is a competitive problem.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to read the article and the feedback. I appreciate hearing everybody's views. We are all aware of the dominance of the big four but when you actually run the numbers and track it on a simple chart, even then, it is still astounding.

    AtlantaPompey – I like your question of how the current “tightness” of the table stacks up against previous seasons, especially, as you mention there is no “Derby” for the 08-09 season. If I can track down the data I will put something together.

    Also if we go down the table just a little we will notice right now that the 10th placed team, Fulham lead 20th placed WBA by one win – 14 points against 11….and this is the table after 12 games, not 3!

    So, I agree that there is competitiveness within the sub-plots of the league, and there is no doubt promotion to the EPL leads to mass celebrations for the successful teams (we've heard about the 60 million pound cup final for the Championship play-off winners), but ultimately, at least for now, you can pretty much bet on at least 3 more green highlighted squares in the top four chart at the end of the season.

  4. Great post! The EPL is definately not the most competitive league around. Compared to the other top leagues the chances of anyone one team beating another are way to slim in the english game. The unfortunate thing is there is no foreseable end to the trend. The issue of a clubs finsncial muscle is now showing even at the continental stage. The top four are indeed the best teams in the world, how can they not be they buy all the new talent. I pity the beautiful game…

  5. I guess it is all down to how we interperate the word ‘competitive’ it is the tightest battle i can remember: 6 points between 10th and the drop is quite unbelievable. However like we all probably think, its the same teams year in year out challenging for the title. Just for once can we see a shock to the system even if it means Fulham or Wigan win it!

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