I’m fed up of hearing that this season’s Premier League is the weakest it’s been in years. Just because Leicester City sit top of the table, it doesn’t mean standards have slumped. In fact I’d say their success proves the exact opposite.
To me, English football’s top flight is in the rudest of health.
I’ll ask you this; was the Premier League a stronger place when bottom-half sides waved the white flag before they’d even turned up at certain grounds? Of course it wasn’t.
When Mick McCarthy was rightly chastised (and fined) for fielding a Wolves reserve XI at Old Trafford in 2009, his controversial call was merely symptomatic of defeatist attitudes at the time. A lot of minnows didn’t believe they stood a chance against the big boys.
Ultra-defensive tactics, one-sided pass fests, and ritual hammerings were served up as the order of the day. It was boring.
We may have less ‘bankers’ on our betting slips, but as a spectacle, thank goodness times have changed.
It’s as if a perfect storm has been created this season.
Richer than ever, and craving to be recipients of the £5billion TV bounty that’s dished out next summer, those outside the traditional top eight have invested heavily (and in most cases wisely) in talent they would never ordinarily have been able to attract.
Boasting so many players that belong at Premier League level, there’s no such thing as an inferiority complex anymore. They play to win, and rightly so because they’re good enough.
The grip on star men has also tightened. Until a couple of years ago the likes of Saido Berahino, John Stones, Yannick Bolasie and Sadio Mane would all have been sold when interest in them intensified. Yet from a position of strength, their owners held firm in the last window. It’s a healthy trend.
The introduction of 25-man squads and Financial Fair Play restrictions hasn’t prevented stockpiling completely, but it’s harder to cherry pick from smaller clubs than it has been before.
Spreading the best players around the division can only be seen a very, very good thing.
From a players’ perspective the lure of joining a giant is also less attractive. Take Leicester City’s star men Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante for example. They don’t need to leave the King Power Stadium to secure their financial futures, that’s in the bag already, and they’re enjoying regular game time for a side that can compete with anybody. Champions League football is the only aspect they’re missing out on (for now).
Playing for teams with a positive attitude, working with outstanding coaches, and surrounded by other excellent players, we shouldn’t be surprised that guys like Cabaye, Ighalo, Payet, Lukaku, Bojan and Mane all seem so content in their environments. The gap in class has definitely closed.
Have our elite clubs gone downhill? Some have certainly stagnated, and that’s helped create this excitement.
Poor purchases and managerial upheaval have held Liverpool and Manchester United back, while Man City and Chelsea have both seen their fat wallets shrunk to some extent by FFP rules preventing them from spending silly money. The power vacuum has wilted.
Mismatches make for dull viewing anyway. Pleasingly, three and four goal margins are now thin on the ground and the stats prove we’ve seen far fewer thrashings in the last 18 months.
Anybody can beat anybody now, and everyone knows it.
When I saw Leicester destroy Chelsea, Stoke outplay Manchester City, and Bournemouth tear Man United to shreds, the last word that came into my head was ‘weak’.
These are halcyon days that should be welcomed.
A leveller playing field creates so much more fun for the fans, and it’s incredibly alluring for the players to be part of too. They love competitive matches as much as the rest of us.
How our big clubs fare in the Champions League no longer bothers me that much.
The Premier League party is the place to be. And if this concertina affect continues, it will only get bigger and better.
Read more from Adrian Clarke