‘The Best League In The World’ was once a sincere expression of the quality of the Premier League. Now it is a sarcastically invoked trope to mock the fact anyone considered the English top tier superior to its rivals. Instead, followers of England’s biggest clubs have had to hear proclamations about other leagues. “The Championship is more exciting”. “La Liga has the two biggest clubs in the world!”. “Sometimes teams other than PSG win it!”.
But Burnley have just won the Championship with their eyes closed. Barcelona and Real Madrid don’t glisten like they once did and this isn’t that one season in five where Atletico Madrid look like challenging. The drama in Ligue 1 isn’t who will win the league, but whether Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe can get along while Paris Saint-Germain walk it.
But it is in this atmosphere of predictability that the Premier League is displaying something like its former glory. While fans in the North West and feverish Sky Sports pundits have been keen to tell you the Manchester City vs Liverpool title battles of the last few years have been monumental, they have not been great for the rest of the league.
The same two teams competing for the title every year, with the same one winning four years out of five, lent proceedings a staleness. Not quite the Bayern Munich-strangled Bundesliga, but not far off. Sure, the two clubs accumulating over 90 points as they pursued the title was exciting, but after a while it left neutrals asking “Why always them?”.
This year it isn’t them. Or at least it isn’t one of them. City are instead engaged in battle with Arsenal for the crown. This is the first reason this season is so exciting compared to others. While they were once a fixture of title races, and an invincible one at that, Arsenal just don’t normally find themselves in this position any more. Top of the league with eight games to play, this is rarefied air for a team that has finished higher than third just once since 2005.
The absent challenge of Liverpool is indicative of another exciting facet of this season. Schadenfreude is in strong supply this season, with the Merseyside giants and Chelsea both languishing in midtable. Fans of rival clubs or even neutrals always tend to get a giddy thrill from seeing a usually-dominant side in the doldrums. With two of England’s biggest sides suffering this year, there has been plenty to relish for those supporters who enjoy such things.
Clubs a tier or two below the big six have struggled too, with the most wide-open relegation battle in years engulfing nearly half the table. Six points separate 12th place Crystal Palace and the drop zone. That margin was enough to get Patrick Vieira sacked, with Roy Hodgson coming in as a safe pair of hands at Selhurst Park.
The relegation battle has dragged in some pretty hefty teams. Former Premier League champions Leicester City are 19th, and have dumped manager Brendan Rodgers as a result. West Ham United have been European mainstays alongside the Foxes in recent years, but they sit just three points above the relegation places.
The presence of two well-supported, historic clubs down the bottom in Everton and Leeds United also creates intrigue. The latter has struggled for an identity since Marcelo Bielsa was let go. The former is the longest-serving top tier team in English football. So many plotlines. So much drama. This is no ordinary Premier League season.
There are so many other subplots to relish in this special campaign. Erling Haaland is chasing down the Premier League single season goals record, which Alan Shearer and Andy Cole currently share with 34 each. The Norway striker has 30 goals already with a maximum of nine league games to add to his total. There is also the battle for Champions League qualification, with the trio Manchester United, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur battling doggedly over two league places.
There’s drama everywhere you look as this Premier League season reaches the final straight. Almost every team has something tangible to play for, whether it be glory, progress or survival. Meanwhile the players fighting for these honours are pushing their performances to new heights to do so. It might not be ‘The Best League In The World’ but to paraphrase the great Brian Clough, it’s in the top one.
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