This season’s Premier League whimpers to a close with a series of dead rubber matches. For a long time, we’ve been sold the narrative that the league is the most competitive, entertaining and compelling in the world with the greatest quality footballers. We have been told the league is of the highest quality even though its top teams continue to get dumped out of European competitions.
This year, Arsenal was eliminated by Monaco while CSKA Moscow took four points off Manchester City in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. In the Europa League, Hull City could not even get past the qualifying rounds. Meanwhile, the rest of the English contingent were generally uninspiring with the exception of Everton whose cup run came to an end in embarrassing fashion versus Dynamo Kiev in the Round of 16.
Proponents of the Premier League claim the competitiveness of the league has hurt its clubs in European competition. The funny thing is that I made the same argument six or seven years ago about German clubs who were struggling in Europe while English clubs dominated the UEFA Champions League. Now, Premier League apologists make this argument to defend the woeful recent record of English clubs in Europe, not just when contrasted with Spain and Germany’s success but also the relative success of France and the much-maligned Serie A in Italy.
Today’s top teams in England, except for Chelsea, would probably have had a very difficult time finishing in the top four of the league in the 2004 to 2009 era when the league’s top four were as good as any sides in Europe. Certainly making this sort of claim is a subjective one, but I see far more holes in today’s top English clubs minus Chelsea than could be observed in that time period when English clubs dominated European competitions.
When I compare the number of dead rubber matches with little in the way of compelling storylines in the Premier League to other leagues across Europe or even to our own domestic leagues in the US, it is frightening. The standard of play in England’s top flight league has dropped relative to other top leagues in the world any way you cut it. Watching the league as closely as I do, I see more bad touches, more bad giveaways and more defensive/goalkeeping errors than ever before. Quite frankly, I see more of these errors in the Premier League than in any other league I watch including the US/Canadian’ second-tier NASL.
In fairness, many of these errors take places because of the frenzied pace of Premier League matches and the robust atmosphere at most league grounds. Nonetheless, the dip in quality of play and the number of meaningless games the league provides its fans and viewers has made England’s top flight less compelling than so many other top competitions across the globe. The record in European competitions does not lie. The Premier League has declined and done so quite rapidly.
Here in North America, for all the criticisms Major League Soccer receives for its postseason format, very few games in the regular season are truly meaningless. The standard of play certainly can be fairly critiqued as can the atmosphere in the stadiums, but generally during the last few weeks of the MLS regular season just every game has some sort of impact on the postseason and thus on the awarding of a champion. The second-tier NASL has a format that makes early season matches in a split-season critical as a champion and postseason spot is awarded after just a third of matches are completed, adding to the excitement and interest in April and May games.
In the Premier League this season, we already know the champion and the Champions League entrants. All that’s left to be determined is who will fill the final relegation position, as well as whether it’ll be Spurs or Southampton that will stumble into a Europa League slot. If Arsenal wins the FA Cup, then the 7th position will be awarded a Europa League entry, with Swansea having an outside chance of making it if they can climb past Spurs or the Saints.
Having said all that, there is little that’s left to be determined to stimulate excitement for neutrals in the Premier League. Despite this, NBC Sports is planning a blockbuster final day of the Premier League season on May 24 when the final games of the season will be televised live across 10 different NBC networks.
Talk about an anti-climax.
Similarly, last season’s Premier League season finale across 10 NBC networks had only two games that mattered out of 10 as Manchester City and Liverpool battled in their separate games to determine the title winner.
The saving grace for English football is the ultra-competitiveness of the nation’s second division, The Championship, whose final few match days this season provided excitement and drama that the top flight has failed to provide.
The Premier League has become less compelling than other top leagues in Europe. This is a far cry from just six seasons ago when it seemed almost pointless to watch other leagues unless you were viewing a match between the top two teams in that league. But today, Germany and Spain provide much better quality right down the table in terms of competitive and compelling matches and excellent football, while our leagues in North America seemingly have more on the line in individual late season games than the Premier League.
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