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Is this really a poor Premier League?

On talk shows, comments sections of articles and other mediums for discussion on all things football one of the most common complaints is that this is a poor Premier League.  Some call it average, some even call it mediocre from those really disenfranchised with what they are watching.  So why is there a section of fans who believe this a poor Premier League?  More importantly how do you judge the quality of a league?

Most fans and pundits would say that the Premier League was strongest when teams from the Premier League were regularly getting to the latter stages of the Uefa Champions League.  Between 2007 and 2009 there were 3 English teams each year and the 6 finalist spots in those three years had 4 of them taken by English teams.  If it was not for Barcelona under Guardiola, arguably the best club side of all time, then there would probably be a few more English names scratched onto that famous trophy.  However during that period there were also complaints about the formation of ‘The big 4’ consisting of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United and how it made the league boring and predictable. So what is better?  A predictable League with the same sides at the top but doing well in Europe or what it is at the moment with a predictable top 2 and then 4 or 5 sides battling after them for Champions League places but with worse performances in Europe?

What of the other top leagues in European football? Lots of talk has been of the growing strength of the Bundesliga, who have 3 sides in the last 16 of the Champions League (all on course to make the quarter-finals after the first legs) and has been impressively run financially, with most clubs making profits and the highest average attendances in Europe.  It’s also a league with Bayern Munich currently 17 points clear at the top (although they had not won it the previous two years to a resurgent Borussia Dortmund).  There is also, however, a lot of competition for the Champions League places.

Similarly, La Liga has been said by many as the best league in the world and the arguments for that are quite convincing.  The slightly dubious Fifpro world team of the year from 2012 had all 11 players from La Liga (and just one not from Real Madrid or Barcelona), and boasts a large number of the elite talents in world football.  In many ways, La Liga is similarly structured to the Premier League, with two main teams competing for the league and then 4 or 5 teams competing for the champions league (Athletico Madrid and some poor results from Real Madrid this year making against that last statement).  The collective performance of La Liga clubs in Europe last season was startling, 2 teams in the champions league semi-finals (no surprise which two) and 3 in the semi- finals in the Europa League with an all-Spanish final.  Yet this year, Barcelona won virtually all of their league games this year and are well ahead of Real Madrid with only a Falcao inspired Atletico Madrid anywhere near them.  Furthermore there is a real possibility (although would be a huge shock if it did happen) that there will only one team from La Liga left in Europe in a little over two weeks time.  That team being Levante who are not exactly setting La Liga alight these days.

Since that 2009 Champions League season when the competition was only a couple of minutes away from a second all English final in a row, English teams have generally not performed well in Europe.  In fairness it was surely inevitable that the record of English teams would decline somewhat but decline it did.  From 3 semi finalist for 3 years in a row the Premier League has since had two quarter finalist in 2010 to one finalist in 2011 and a winner in 2012.  On paper, not exactly a disaster, although Manchester United had the possibly the worst semi-finalists in Champions League history in Schalke in 2011 and Chelsea’s remarkable run based largely on defence was a minor miracle considering their league form.  Furthermore only two teams have made it out of the Group stages the last two years and could well have no English teams in the quarter-finals since the year Blackburn were unable to get out of their group in 1995/96 season.  Three English teams however are in the last 16 of the Europa League and Liverpool was just one goal away from making it a fourth.

So achievement in Europe shouldn’t be the determining factor of the strength or quality of a league.  I bet no one would say La Liga is a poor league if none of the Spanish teams overturn their respective ties this season.  So are people saying the Premier League is poor because it compares poorly to the recent high level English teams were doing in Europe (while probably saying it was boring and predictable at the same time)?  It could well be one reason, another one is that with Manchester United 12 points clear at the top of the table and generally considered average compared to other teams of the recent past then it doesn’t say much for the rest of the league that they are so far ahead.  One can see the logic in that argument, but then if they knock out Real Madrid in the Champions League then exactly how many teams are much better than them? However it has to be said that Manchester United’s squad is much bigger and deeper than anyone else and that seems to be the main reason why they are so far ahead.

So is it really a poor premier league this year?  Certainly the title race is a lot less exciting than last year with those incredible scenes at the Etihad stadium at the end of last season, as well as Newcastle finishing higher in the league than Chelsea, Tottenham back in the ‘Top 4’ helped to make it one of the most dramatic seasons for some time.  However, to call the Premier League this year poor is very harsh, and also creates the question of how many good, even average leagues are there exactly?  Thank goodness we aren’t watching the Estonian league in that case.

The premier league might not have Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Falcao and it might have lost Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabregas and Xabi Alonso (and ahem…Alex Song) but the Premier League has some magnificent players, Van Persie, Suarez, Bale, Rooney, David Silva, Juan Mata, Vidic, Kompany, Jack Wilshere, Yaya Toure, the French National team (also known as Newcastle United), Eden Hazard, Oscar and others.  Why do we put down our own league with a list of players like that?  The rest of Europe has grown stronger, with the financial strength of the Bundesliga, the historical significance of Serie A, the outstanding quality of players at the top of La Liga as well as the sugar daddy clubs from Russia and Paris making Europe as competitive as it has ever been.  A poor premier league you say?  I would love to see a Premier League that is considered good then!

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