Premier League’s two horse race is a sign of plummeting quality

With Man City and Liverpool ruling the roost in England’s top tier, Graham Ruthven feels the rest of the league have gone into early hibernation.

Pep Guardiola Jurgen Klopp


With 91 points, Liverpool’s current tally with two games of the 2018/19 Premier League campaign still to play, Jurgen Klopp would have been a champion 33 of the last 37 seasons. Indeed, the Anfield side, within touching distance of a historic triumph, look likely to clinch only a historic failure.

Manchester City will, if they beat Leicester City and Brighton, make sure of that.

Never before has the Premier League been dominated so emphatically by two teams in the one season. City and Liverpool, from the very first round of fixtures, have set a pace that nobody else has been able to keep.

For context, Tottenham Hotspur in third place are closer to Watford in 10th place than they are to the top of the table.

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The temptation is to use City and Liverpool’s astonishing form to make a point about the quality of the Premier League this season.

Surely, the argument goes, these two teams are a product of their environment and so the environment must be thriving. The truth, however, is somewhat different and certainly more nuanced.

Manchester United have endured a turgid campaign, with Jose Mourinho sacked before Christmas and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer more recently suffering a run of poor form that has seen the Old Trafford outfit win just two of their last 10 matches. However, should they win their last two games of the season they will finish with a points tally just four short of their 1996-97 tally when United won the Premier League title.

This isn’t exactly the mark of a strong league all the way through, from top to bottom.

In fact, it is quite the opposite, a signifier of a top-heavy division, where the teams near the bottom have been cannon fodder for those near the summit.

Take Huddersfield Town, for instance, who are set to finish with the lowest points tally of any Premier League team since Derby County in 2007/08. Even then, the Terriers could avoid such an indignity by the virtue of just a single win – Derby finished with 11 points, Huddersfield currently have only 14.

Fulham and Cardiff City have also endured awful campaigns, with the former, second bottom of the Premier League table, unlikely to make it to 30 points, never mind the 40 points all relegation-threatened sides target.

It’s in the misfiring of these teams, not the ones firing at the top, that the Premier League’s true temperature can be taken.

The goal difference column also tells the tale of a divided division, two leagues within a league. Only the top six boast positive goal difference in double figures. Outside that elite, the drop-off is marked, with Wolves, for all that they have achieved in their first season back in the Premier League, currently sitting on a goal difference of just plus two.

Everton, on plus six, boast the biggest positive goal difference outside the top six, but even that is largely the product of a freak result, the 4-0 win over Man Utd. Without that unexpectedly emphatic win, Marco Silva’s side would be just about breaking even, just like the rest of the teams around them in the table.

There hasn’t even been a hierarchy outside the top six this season. In seasons gone by, teams like Burnley, Southampton and West Ham have established themselves as the best of the rest.

Instead, seventh place is still achievable for four different teams – Wolves, Leicester City, Everton and Watford. Until recently, even West Ham, who have had a disappointing year, were in play for that spot.

The struggles of Huddersfield, Fulham and Cardiff, who have been clear favourites for the drop from early on, have allowed the mid-section of the league to sag, complacent in their safety. This has, in a wider sense, contributed to a sagging division as a whole.

It’s not at the top of the Premier League where the yardstick should be held against.

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