On the eve of a new season, Jose Mourinho was keen to promote an old theme, and one that surely keeps the Premier League particularly happy to have him in England. The Portuguese began to wax on about how as many as five clubs can win the title, how it’s the most competitive league in the world.
An element of this is clearly self-serving, given that it again allows Mourinho a ready-made excuse for failure, but that’s not to say there isn’t any accuracy to it either. The Premier League clearly has more teams closer to its top level than any other in Europe's elite, and there is also something deeper here.
Although it may not seem like it, the competition has actually just come through what is probably the most diverse period it probably could have, given the financial context. It has certainly been more diverse than the half-decade that preceded it, the infamous “big four” era.
Consider the figures.
From 2004 - when Mourinho and Rafa Benitez arrived in the Premier League to effectively initiate that spell - to 2009, the Premier League only saw two champions (Chelsea and Manchester United) and went four straight years with the same four clubs finishing in the Champions League places (those two, Arsenal and Liverpool).
Even the campaign that deviated from this, 2004-05, saw an immediate conformation to the coming trend as fourth-placed Everton lost their Champions League qualifier to Villarreal while Liverpool successfully navigated theirs after winning the competition outright the season before.
The period 2009-15 has been rather different. It has seen three different clubs win the title, and none of them retain it. By contrast, Chelsea won it twice in a row under Mourinho from 2004 to 2006, while United then claimed it three times in a row. There's also been far more variation underneath. Over the last six years, six different clubs have reached the Champions League proper, and the Premier League has never seen the same set of four clubs fill the top four in successive seasons. There has always been a change.
The wonder, however, is whether that is now starting to change back. In that sense, it would arguably be appropriate that Chelsea retain the title for the first time in six years, because it does feel as if we’re returning to the old repetitiveness.
It could well become the theme of the season.
Right now, it is certainly difficult to look beyond the same quartet - Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United - finishing in the top four. The financial circumstances are again creating more influential gaps, as Arsenal now begin to properly profit from the 2006 move to the Emirates and the Glazer ownership of United has reached a new position of security.
Although Brendan Rodgers has defied such financial disparities at Liverpool before, in the 2013-14 campaign, it’s simply impossible to keep doing so. It takes an unusually high level of performance in the first place, and that is a performance level that is obviously going to be punctured by continuing sales of top players. A club like that is always going to be fighting the tide.
Their transfer business this summer almost sums it up. Although Liverpool have made some good moves, and the vast majority of their new players represent upgrades, can it really be said they have brought the team closer to the level of the top four? That seems unlikely, unless Rodgers can again fall on the kind of alchemic tactical mix that greatly enhances the individual talents of his players when together as a team.
Then there’s the rather drab and depressing case of Tottenham Hotspur. Just three years ago, they were threatening to become regular top-four contenders. Now, they seem further away than ever, and there’s a sense that we know how their season will end before it’s even begun. This is not to blame Mauricio Pochettino, who is clearly one of the brightest coaches in the game. It's just the specific financial context seems to dull any sense of excitement.
When you break it all down, it really is going to take something brilliant - and that only comes along once every few seasons - for last season’s top four to be split.
We may well be returning to the same old, same old, and it’s possible no-one will represent that better than Mourinho and his team.
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