Have We Seen the End of the 90-Plus Point Behemoth in the Premier League?

Photo by Eva the Weaver

We’ve all seen it before. A man or lady approaches a burly fellow holding a clipboard. He is the gatekeeper and behind him is a passageway into an exclusive club where the music is loud, the drinks flow freely and the people seem to be having the time of their lives. For the patrons hoping to coerce the bouncer into letting them through, the velvet rope is more than a divider, it is a status symbol.

In the modern-day Premier League, that club has generally had four consistent members (Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) with Newcastle United (3rd place 02-03), Everton (4th place 04-05) and Tottenham (4th place 09-10) all dropping in for a beverage or two.

However with the emergence of Manchester City as a title contender, the resurgence of Liverpool under King Kenny and Tottenham trying desperately to hold onto Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, the Premier League may be moving into the era of party-crashers and away from the dominant 90-point clubs of the past decade.

Last year’s campaign featured statistical anomalies that are quickly evolving into trends. First and foremost, Manchester United won the league with only 80 points. That is the lowest total for a champion since United won the league with the same total in the 00-01 season. I don’t think that United tallying 80 points is an indictment of how “this year’s squad wasn’t as great as past teams” as it was an indication of how much parity there was within the league.

All clubs had ups and downs, United just managed them better than the rest. Chelsea slumped through the winter. Arsenal provided its annual late season collapse. City came on strong late in the season. Liverpool spent some time in the relegation zone early in the year but found its legs under Kenny Dalglish. And Tottenham seemed to wear down after a successful foray into Europe’s premier competition.

The difference between first-place United and sixth-place Liverpool this past season was only 22 points. The gap between first and sixth was the same in 09-10 when Chelsea (86 points) held off the Red Devils (85 points) from securing a fourth straight title. In United’s other 80-point season a decade ago, the gap was a paltry 19 points. The parity wasn’t just at the top of the table in 2010-11 either. The final day of the season featured 80-plus different permutations for the final two relegation spots. When the smoke cleared and the fans were done celebrating on the pitch at Molineux, it went down as one of the craziest final days in recent memory.

And despite becoming the casualties of the dramatic climax, Birmingham City, Blackpool (how we will miss you Tangerines) and West Ham still managed to tally 111 points between them. The total was the highest since Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest carried 114 points with them into the Championship following the 96-97 season (not coincidentally, United won the title that year with 75 points and the gap between first and sixth was only 16 points).

As with most things in life, football is cyclical. Sir Alex Ferguson probably said it best after United were thrashed by the Catalans in the Champions League Final in May. “I think it is the best team we have ever played,” he said after the match. “They are at a tremendous peak in the cycle of their team and you get teams who elevate themselves to that status and I think Barcelona are that team. We were well beaten. There is no other way to address the situation. We were beaten by the better team, a fantastic team of course, but I expected to do better. We expected to do better, it’s as simple as that.”

With all the grumbling over United’s 80 points last season, it’s easy to forget that in mid-1990’s the league champion registered 82 or less points for four straight seasons. In fact, the 90-point titans didn’t arrive in full force until Arsenal’s “invincibles” busted onto the scene in 03-04. The Gunners were followed by Chelsea, which wrapped a pair of impressive seasons (95 and 91 points respectively) under The Special One and United (90 points) in 08-09.

Given this data and the recent European Cup Final, casual observers will assume that the Prem is not in a position to promote a “truly great” team to carry the mantle for English football. However, I think that this conclusion is misguided. Case in point, United’s treble winning team of 1999 won the league with 79 points and is still regarded as one of the best clubs in a generation.

Maybe sometimes you don’t need a 90-point behemoth after all.

Tell me what you think. Does a club need to rack up 90-plus points to be classified as a great club? If not, then what makes a club great? And with seemingly more teams hoping to enter the championship conversation next season, will the league have more parity as time goes on?

15 thoughts on “Have We Seen the End of the 90-Plus Point Behemoth in the Premier League?”

  1. I’m always intrigued by football talk at this time of the year about upcoming seasons and what is always good for a laugh or two, are the theories about how next season “will be different” somehow.

    I’m as guilty as all the rest of us. We all hope and pray (at least some of us do) that we’ll see a newcomer break into the top 4 and challenge the Big Boys. The season before last, Tottenham actually did that, and for the first 2-3 months of last year, it looked like we had a real horse race for the title on our hands, but as usual, the pretenders faded and the old guard won it again.

    First up, let me say that I was one of those who thought that Man City would become the new Chelsea. With all of their talent and money, how could they not succeed ? Well, forget the FA Cup win. Nobody cares about that tournament anymore, despite what they say. It’s all about the Premier League title and the Champions League trophy. City may well be in the running again, but they will prove, again, that you cannot just buy talent and win CONSISTENTLY. The flame of success burns ever so brightly for a while, but when the wick has burnt down, there’s not much left. Chelsea are now finding that out.

    Man Utd and Arsenal (if they have any players left) will challenge again, Chelsea too. City will be around for a while, Tottenham will struggle, and the rest will scrap it out for the leavings.

    Sounds boring, but that’s where the excitement is.

  2. Parity is great for the Premier League. As seen in the Champions League, England placed three clubs in the final 8, and nearly had a fourth until a highly questionable red card (And Im not an Arsenal supporter). A point total in the best league in the world isn’t necessary to achieve, no 90 point mark would make the league better. The 2010-11 campaign was a memorable one, at both ends of the table and I hope this upcoming campaign is just as exciting.

    1. Highly questionable is not the word. Flat out help from the ref is. Barcelona play with 3 extra men on the field( ref and 2 linesman). They did it to Arsenal and Real Madrid.

    2. This is not parity it is just the existence of more money teams. The premier league has 5 of them: manu, manc, chelsea, arsenal, liverpool, tottenham is an above average team financially.
      the more money teams you have the harder it is for money teams to break away. LA Liga used to only have 2, now with malaga it has 3. Serie a had 2 with inter and milan , now with roma another.
      More money teams make the competition for the top prize harder for money teams, but the money teams are always above the average and bottom teams who are financially incapable of fielding the best players.

  3. I think the 90+ points will be few and far between but not entirely over. A club with a deep squad might be able to do it.

    1. I think you’re right. Next year could provide even more dramatics if WBA secure Ben Foster and Sunderland continues to improve. We could see some new blood fighting for UEFA Cup spots, which would be exciting.

  4. I think it’s absurd to say a team must amass 90 points in order to be regarded as “great.” If a team wins the title with 90 points, it’s as likely to be the case that the rest of the league was relatively weak as it is that the 90-point-team was “great.”

    In the year just past, there were no dreadful teams in the league. As a result, ManU dropped a combined five points to the likes of West Brom, Wolves, and Birmingham. Winning all of those games, which I’m sure their supporters fully expected, would have got them to 85: halfway from 80 to 90, so to speak.

    I think if we continue to see a Premier League in which six teams are good enough to contend for the Champions League places, and if the teams promoted from the Championship are relatively competitive, we may find in years to come that an 80-point champion will be regarded as a “behemoth.”

    1. Well, the philosophical debate her is wheter it was the league that was unusually good, or if United was just too mediocre to truly seperate from an average field of contenders.

      There’s no definite answer to that debate, but I’ll say that in the case of 10-11 season it was United being the best of a pretty mediocre big-six. I like to look at margin of victory as a telling stat, and it seemed that United had a lot of one-goal victories, in stead of blowing their opponents out like a truly great team would’ve done.

  5. I though the Premier League was exciting as hell last season, with all the jockeying for the Champions League-Europa League spots and the chaos at the bottom of the table.

    I think we’ll get a good indication of how good the Prem League is when we see what Stoke an Birmingham do in Europe … Stoke was a middle-of-the-road Prem club and Birmingham was relegated. If they make a splash in the Europa League, I think we have to say it’s parity, not mediocrity.

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