After Chelsea’s Dramatic Win Against Napoli, Is the Premier League Still The Best in the World?

Chelsea won in a blaze of glory Wednesday night to become the EPL’s only representative in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League. That is a shocking state of affairs for a global sporting brand that considers itself to be the biggest and best show in town. Can we really say that the Premier League is still sitting alone in its ivory tower, mocking the achievements of its continental rivals? Is there even a viable contender for the throne to be found amongst the big leagues of Western Europe?

What makes something ‘the best?’ If it is purely determined on the basis of success in European competition then the mantle must surely be passed on. From the mid part of the last decade, English clubs have enjoyed a level of success in the European Cup only previously witnessed during the five straight victories in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The Heysel Ban saw the Italian clubs, particularly AC Milan, return to prominence, whilst by the late 1990’s, Real Madrid were top dogs. Looking at this pattern, one would assume the periods of dominance merely goes in cycles with one of the ‘Big Three’ leagues taking top spot for a time. Two titles and five runners up spots in six seasons is impressive stuff and certainly counts as an era of dominance for EPL’s top teams. The fact that circumstances have shifted so suddenly leaves us to ponder our place at UEFA’s top table. Spain has two teams; Real and Barca (who else??) whilst Portugal, France and even Cyprus have a place in the last eight. These facts and figures give further credence to the suggestion that the crown is starting to slip.

If ‘the best’ means high quality football being played by a plethora of world class players the EPL comes once again under scrutiny. La Liga has the two, undisputed, greatest footballers on earth. Both sides of the El Clasico divide are stacked with World Cup winners and players capable of technical brilliance week on week. The Premier League has lost Ronaldo and Fabregas in recent years, lessening the ‘Wow!’ factor on display. It has however gained Aguero, Silva and Suarez, all three of whom are thrilling on the eye. Our best sides are still able to put on a show occasionally; be it a period of sustained possession, a slick passing move, a breathless change of pace, a devastating shot. Rooney, Van Persie and co. are having no trouble unlocking English defences with their technical prowess, but increasingly find themselves unable to fool top European stoppers with the same tricks.

Opening up the debate, we have seen some great football exhibited at the Liberty Stadium and some highly effective percentage play at Stoke and Sunderland. The Potters have transported this style, with a degree of success, into the Europa League, proving also that our continental brethren ‘don’t like it up em’. Is that football better or more effective than the brand played at Lecce or Osasuna? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whatever its merits, he physical, high-tempo nature that has long typified our play both at home and abroad appears to have run out of steam, or simply the rest have grown wise to it. Napoli’s fluid style combines kamikaze defending with speedy counter attacks, tearing up the clichés that hang heavy around the neck of Italian football. This tactical shift gives problems to English sides more used to allowing European opponents time on the ball, only to punish them on the break.

If being ‘the best’ means highly competitive football then the EPL still stands astride the rest. The Bundesliga runs it close but the unpredictable nature of the results on any weekend continues to make it the most captivating league around. Even with the Manchester clubs romping away, no result is a given. Each fixture is, with a few notable exceptions, hard fought, and both physically and emotionally draining for the players. The best sides no longer appear to have the quality to compete with the very best sides in Europe and that fact is being reaffirmed week on week at home. No longer are the ‘Big Six’ able to rest their players for ‘home bankers’ on a Saturday for the crunch UCL group stage match on a Tuesday evening. Each and every point is vital, forcing managers to either rotate or field heavy legged players in those crucial encounters.

The slight dip in quality at the pinnacle of the EPL and the steady improvement of teams lower down (and don’t forget the Championship too) has contributed to a much stronger league as a whole. This strength has, in turn, produced weaker entrants into European competition. Barca and Real Madrid, for example, hold such supremacy in Spain that a game played only in second gear can still yield three points. There are other reasons too. Many of the great players with Champions League pedigree are ageing, no longer the force they once were. The bigger clubs are cutting costs and looking longer term with their transfer policy with only City bucking the downsizing trend.

Is the Premier League still the best? Only just. The football is exciting and competitive and quite rightly still attracts huge global audiences. Germany and Italy are on the march, the former making giant strides in recent years, and even teams from the so-called ‘lesser leagues’ are enjoying success against the top teams (Ajax, Basle, Sporting Lisbon). If complacency sets in, standards will slip further.

The EPL holds the throne, but it is not sitting comfortably.

25 thoughts on “After Chelsea’s Dramatic Win Against Napoli, Is the Premier League Still The Best in the World?”

  1. I’m not sure it is a good thing for Chelsea to still be in the Champions League. I have been watching Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Either of them would destroy Chelsea and any other team in the Premier League. Chelsea will only be a meal to these three.

  2. La Liga has to be the most boring league in the world. It’s either Real or Barca, thanks to govt funding. It makes for a very monotone and boring league. EPL is exciting thanks to the unpredictable nature of each match. No point is guaranteed.

    P.S. How many goals did Messi score in the World Cup? Just as I thought…

    1. “La Liga has to be the most boring league in the world. It’s either Real or Barca, thanks to govt funding.”

      Hmm… Let’s look at the number of teams that won the title in England and Spain since 2000:

      England – 3 (Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal)
      Spain – 4 (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Deportivo)

      1. Ummm…maybe I’m missing a link but I don’t see anywhere when Deportivo won the La Liga since 2000 so that cuts your La Liga list to three teams just like the EPL.

        1. Deportivo won the La Liga in 1999/2000 season. Whether you include it in the count or not doesn’t change the fact that EPL is not more competitive than La Liga in terms of the title contention.

    2. How many goals did Rooney scored in WC? Shame that a 7th team in a lowe league can outplay the 1st team in EPL home and away. Wonder if La Liga is boring how EPL would be? Tell us since 1966 what trophy has England won?

  3. “If being ‘the best’ means highly competitive football then the EPL still stands astride the rest.”

    Sorry but the numbers do not support your assertion. Here is standings of top 5 EPL teams:

    MU 67
    MC 66
    Spurs 53
    Arsenal 52
    Chelsea 49

    And here is top standings in Erividisie:

    AZ 52
    Ajax 49
    Twente 48
    PSV 48
    Heerenveen 48

    Obviously Erividisie is much more competive. Is it the best in the world? Also, La Liga maybe not competitive but their 7th placed Athletic Bilbao were competitive enough against EPL leaders Manchester United at OT.

    “The slight dip in quality at the pinnacle of the EPL and the steady improvement of teams lower down (and don’t forget the Championship too) has contributed to a much stronger league as a whole.”

    Again the numbers contradict this statement. Teams “lower down” have done progressively worse each season. You can find comparisons in comments to the earlier post on this site.

    The article brings some interesting discussion points but overall has too much wishful thinking. “EPL is the best league in the world because I think it is the best”.

    1. Yes. Let’s use one fixture to judge Manchester United. Because every successful club in history has never had gone through bad seasons.

  4. Is it just me, or are these Champions League matches cumbersome to watch at times? The pre-match atmosphere is exciting, especially when it’s at a place like Anfield or the Bernabeu, but the match seldom lives up to this European Night atmosphere.

    When I watch a Premier League match, I’m always hooked because it is end-to-end action, but when you have European teams play, they play at SUCH a slow pace that one has to motivate yourself to watch them play for 90 minutes? I was watching Bayern Munich play against Basel yesterday, and although, they played well, they were passing the ball so slowly and the other team wasn’t even pressing up on them. They won’t be able to beat Barcelona or Real Madrid at the pace they were playing at yesterday. They’ll have to play with more energy and pace. And the Inter-Marseille watch was even worse. Inter have got to be the most boring team in European football to watch. Compare them to their Milan neighbors, who play energetic and yet, crafty and neat footie. Inter Milan plays drab and predicable football. The match against Chievo was unbearable to watch for a neutral spectator. The tempo of passing was so damn slow and neither team was doing much in the final third.

    This is why the Premier League is the most popular league in the world. The tempo is exciting, the pace of the passing is healthy. Most people don’t care about technical passing and passing the ball 50x slowly without doing anything. They want to see two sides have a go at each other and produce entertaining football, not a snooze-fest.

  5. great game -that’s the kind of drama that makes CL so special when it all comes together

    EPL for me is the deepest league in the world
    Barcelona is the best team after that there are a lot of challengers for #2 but up to this year EPL has been well represented in CL final
    This game doesn’t really address the question. The top teams from last year may not be the top 4 EPL teams this year MU disappointed surely, City can be explained by lack of experience in the competition with the Tevez drama being the final peg in coffin- Arsenal is down and was way out of sync early -Chelsea showed passion today I have not seen all year- where’s it been? EPL is a strong league but this year not as strong at the top as some others Barca-Madrid-Munich are teams to beat for me next year could be a very strong year for EPL in champions league- both Manchester’s will be in the hunt for the whole thing- Tottenham will be dangerous and either Arsenal/Chelsea should be looking for redemption with big off seasons

  6. Chelsea had an outstanding and well deserved victory can we leave it at that? I don’t give a flying what league the non-professional players that post on this site think is the best. Premier League is the most entertaining hands down.

    Contiued success Chelsea and Di Matteo.

  7. I don’t understand why this ridiculous argument goes on and on.

    “Best league in the world” is just a marketing line coined by Sky Sports that everyone seems to have bought into. The Premier League probably has the best coverage an marketing, but people should be more concerned with watching a good game of football as opposed to a league brand.

    If anything, a more level playing field is a good thing, as the 2 games between Napoli V Chelsea were brilliant.

    When people say “every game is competitive” in the Premier League is such a mundane viewpoint, as it’s hardly like teams just roll over in other leagues. I’m not saying the Premier League is rubbish as I love it, but I don’t get why people are so concerned about status for an entire league.

    I am just interested in football.

  8. I’m scratching my head at the writer’s thesis and the tinge of “EPL” hubris attached to it. However – his point on the paradigm shift on European teams adapting to the pace of English football is spot on.

    Manchester United getting a result in Turin in the 98/99 Season, on their way to being champions, was a game changer, Juventus, down on away goals, simply couldn’t cope with the box to box pace of the Red Devils that night; Italian Clubs never got the same respect since. Napoli, last night showed that even Serie A Clubs, starved of recent European exposure, have adapted to the pace of their Premier League rivals.

    Barcelona exposed in last year’s final, the limitations of Ferguson’s flat, lethargic formations and tactics he used on the night – in the most painful of ways, the way Romario, Stoichkov, et al, did at the Nou Camp in the mid 90’s when Barca had put on a humiliating footballing clinic on a Manchester side, trying to play in a “European” fashion. Things do come full circle but I’m not sure that the “odd season” without ALL FOUR English flags in the semis makes that point however.

  9. With 1 team left in european competiton i think this article should ask if the epl is the most overrated league in the world.

  10. La Liga is the most boring league in the world. EPL is the best league in the world with the most entertaining style of football. Well we saw plenty of evidence to support this today with 7th placed Athletic Bilbao producing a dazzling performance and completely outclassing reigning EPL champions and current leaders Manchester United.

  11. How much did Sky Sports pay you to write this crap? Seriously, EPL are so insecure about their status (or lack of it) that this nonsense has to appear somewhere on the news everyday? People are not that stupid that they can’t judge with their own eyes. Man, even when Serie A and La Liga were dominating Europe in the 80s and 90s, this kind of propaganda rarely surfaced.

    Back to the article, the majority of FIFPro best 11 players play in La Liga, current CL holder in La Liga, current Europa League holder in Portugal, the best talent pool in Spain, current European and World Champs are Spain, 5 Spanish teams are still in the CL and Europa League. Man Utd were just been humiliated home and away by Athletic Bilbao (7th in La Liga). Man City also had been dumped out by Sporting Lisbon etc etc.

    Moreover, the Spanish League has Real Madrid and Barcelona as barometers to gauge how far other teams must progress. Same thing can’t be said about EPL at the moment.

    Competitiveness in EPL is due to the fact that all the teams from top to bottom are pretty shitty at the moment.

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