When Manchester City won the 2017-18 Premier League title in record-breaking fashion — most points (100), most goals scored (106) and most wins (32) — fans and pundits were quick to proclaim Pep Guardiola’s side as the best seen in the League’s history.
But interestingly, it also provided ammunition to those who were waiting to pick holes in the argument that the English league was the most competitive in the world. Manchester United, which finished second, was 19 points behind, a state of affairs eerily similar to those in France and Germany, where Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich have routinely pummelled opposition, resulting in one-horse races.
But such an assessment is slightly off the mark. In business jargon, what happened last season can be compared to ‘Market Correction’, which is explained as a rapid change in the nominal price of a commodity after a barrier to free trade has been removed and the free market establishes a new equilibrium price. With the Premier League awash with more money than ever before — six of the 10 richest clubs in the world are Premier League outfits — the 95-100 point bracket appears the new equilibrium.
It was something kick-started by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea in the previous campaign, winning the championship by achieving 93 points and Tottenham Hotspur running it close by reaching 86. City and Liverpool, who are locked in a tight battle for bragging rights in the 2018-19 season, will in all probability need to get close to 100 points (the benchmark set by City) to claim the honours. And unlike last year, the second-place side won’t be too far behind, proving that the Premier League is indeed the most closely fought among all.
In fact, this is perfectly in line with the overall trend seen in recent times. Writing in FourFourTwo , journalist Huw Davies pointed out that “Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea (twice) have all finished third — not even second, but third — with 82 or 83 points, which would be title-winning totals in seven of the Premier League’s 23 completed 38-game seasons.”
Between 1995-96 (the year the league settled into the current 38-team format) and 1999-2000, an average of 81 points was required to be crowned champion. From 2000-01 to 2009-10 the average went up to 88. It may have slightly reduced to 85 points from 2010-11 to 2015-16, primarily because of Manchester United’s 80 (2010-11) and Leicester City’s 81 (2015-16), but there is little doubt that the game in England is getting tougher.
The numbers for the coveted fourth place are more revelatory. It is the last position that guarantees Champions League action and is a significant barometer of a club’s standing among the European and world elite, both in footballing and financial terms. From 1995-96 to 1999-2000, the average number of points required to finish fourth was 66. From 2000-01 to 2009-10 it went up to 68 and then to 71 for the period from 2010-11 to 2015-16. Liverpool, which finished fourth in both 2016-17 and 2017-18, ended with 76 and 75 points, respectively. To put it in perspective, Manchester United won the league in 1996-97 with 75 points, the lowest until now.
Such a situation, where the top sides need more points than before to maintain their superiority, can often lead to the annihilation of those lower in the leagues. However, numbers from the Premier League do not seem to suggest so. In the last eight title runs, only once (2016-17) has the point differential between 17th position (survival) and 18th position (relegation) been more than three points. In the 15 campaigns before that, it happened six times.
Overall, an increasingly competitive league at the top, with the bar being raised consistently, coupled with the bottom holding its own, is nothing short of a dream scenario. The business end of the 2018-19 season should see a similar theme play out. Table toppers Liverpool and City do not play each other, as a result negating the possibility of cancelling out the other.
But City has the tougher road, with difficult games to play against United and Tottenham, while Liverpool only has Chelsea to meet among the bigwigs. Where City may still hold the advantage is in the fact that it has title-winning experience, whereas Liverpool, which is gunning for its first title in 29 years, has given out enough indications that whenever it has worn the crown (of being top of the table) the head has hung heavy.
Regardless of the winner though, there are more than enough reasons to believe that 2018-19 will add to the recent list of glowing examples of the Premier League’s boundaries being constantly stretched.
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