It’s time for the Premier League to embrace the chaos of the Play-Offs

It’s hard to beat the excitement of the Play-Offs in the Football League and Graham Ruthven feels it’s time England’s top tier adopted them.


There was a scenario, albeit a highly unlikely one, that would have, had it materialised, seen Liverpool and Manchester City face a play-off to decide the 2018/19 Premier League title race.

Indeed, had there been two freak results on Sunday (a 4-0 Brighton win and a 4-4 draw between Liverpool and Wolves) the two sides would have finished exactly level – 95 points, 91 goals scored, 26 goals conceded, +65 goal difference.

That would have been quite the spectacle, bettering, at least in terms of pure drama, what was actually served up on the final day of the season. City and Liverpool ran a relentless title race, setting a new standard for what is expected of title challengers, but ultimately what we got at the finish line was something of an anti-climax.

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It was a similar tale in the ‘Race For The Top Four,’ where Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur staggered over the line to qualify for next season’s Champions League despite each winning just one of their last four league fixtures.

Arsenal and Manchester United both, effectively, had nothing to play for on the final day.

Contrast this with the excitement and theatre that will be served up by play-offs across the EFL this week. For their pure drama, these games are the highlight of the season, where a whole campaign is placed on the line, resulting in some of the most memorable 90-minute contests.

It is in these games that the essence of what it means to be a football fan, to go through ecstasy and agony in the space of just one afternoon, can be found.

So why aren’t there any play-offs in the Premier League?

This is, after all, the self-styled Best League In The World, a division where, supposedly, anyone can beat anyone and where a sense of occasion is packed into every single fixture, no matter how meaningless it may appear on the face of things. The Premier League has sold itself around the world as such.

Imagine just how more dramatic the final stretch of the season would be if play-offs were a factor.

Of course, it would be too radical to suggest that the title race should be decided in such a way, but what about the race to finish in the top four? Surely one of those places could be decided by a mini play-off series at the end of the season.

Such a format could also work at the foot of the table. The Bundesliga pits the team that finishes the season 16th against the side that finishes third in the Bundesliga 2, with the winner over two legs taking their place in the German top flight next season. A similar thing also takes place in Ligue 1.

If English football has already made its peace with the Americanisation of the sport in favour of drama and spectacle, with play-offs played throughout the EFL, then why should proposals to introduce a knockout format be baulked at by the Premier League? A precedent has been set, so why wouldn’t they follow it?

Naturally, clubs, particularly those with their superiority to lose in a one-off game likely, would object. English football is already criticised for its lengthy season, with two major cup competitions and lack of a winter break, so asking players to play a further two or three games at the end of the campaign would likely be met sternly.

The top six is increasingly becoming the dog that wags the Premier League tail, but if England’s top flight remains a division intent on innovating and evolving to stay at the top of the sport then it must consider current trends.

Since their introduction in the late 1980s, play-offs have given the rest of English football a real end-of-season flourish. The Premier League should take note.

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