Does the EPL’s Race for the Top 4 Reward Mediocrity?

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With two fixtures left to play in the 2016/17 English Premier League season, Chelsea have already popped the champagne and Tottenham are a lock for the Champions League. The only unsettled drama is the “Race for the Top 4,” and it looks like the EPL’s final two Champions League slots will come down to the final weekend. Not exactly Balotelli to “AGUEROOO!” type drama, but it’s definitely must-see TV. Or is it?

I listen to SiriusXM FC every day. The venom and frustration from Arsenal fans that call in is palpable. “Wenger out” doesn’t even to begin to describe their angst. And who can blame them? Their club has capital in the boardroom and elite talent on the field to win the League. But it’s seems like Arsenal’s American owners are playing FIFA 17 Career Mode, with “Qualify for Europe” as their only objective.

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We know that Manchester United will have to settle for winning the Europa League. Despite Mourinho’s cries for help, the EPL’s most global club frankly hasn’t been good enough to win the Premiership. 

Let’s quickly break down the candidates for the two final top-four slots:

  • Manchester City: Gabriel Jesus is back from injury and City are winning games again. Remaining opponents – West Brom and Watford
  • Liverpool: After smashing West Ham 4-0 on Sunday, Klopp’s men have their eyes set on a top of the table finish. Remaining opponents – Middlesbrough
  • Arsenal:  Alexis and friends are on the rise and will look to keep Wenger’s record of never finishing outside the top four intact. Remaining opponents – Sunderland and Everton.

This past weekend in Serie A, Atalanta qualified for the Europa League following a 26-year absence. After guaranteeing a spot in Europe and a top-five finish ahead of rivals Milan, the scenes on the streets of Bergamo resembled a championship run. Hard to imagine Arsenal and Manchester United fans lighting flares and standing on cars after qualifying for Europe. Maybe that’s the beauty of world football’s toughest league, where one or two mistakes can relegate big clubs to lower their standards.

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So, let’s debate: is the Race for the Top 4 more exciting when massive clubs are fighting for third and fourth place?  Who’s in and who’s out?

*The final 2016/17 top 4 with direct qualification to The Champions League are: Chelsea, Spurs, Manchester City and Manchester United (Europa League Champions). Liverpool face a play-off to enter pool play. 




4 thoughts on “Does the EPL’s Race for the Top 4 Reward Mediocrity?

  1. I guess my first question is the title, mediocrity? According to UEFA coefficient system, at the moment Spain is most powerful/ entertaining league to watch mainly because of Barca and Real Madrid success in League and CL, as well as Sevilla, Celta Vigo success in Europa League.

    England Ranked # 2. I will break it down by teams. ( Arsenal ) Since the Arsene Wenger Era began he has obtained one league title, while his predecessor had two league titles from 1998- 2002 ( keeping it in the recent Premier league era.the invincible seasons had set the bar high.

    Since Arsenal’s invincible season, Chelsea , Man U, have practically traded titles with a few teams ( Leicester and Man City) sprinkled in.

    During this timeframe , Man City has hardly been relevant until 2010. Man City was relegated in 2002, the. Promoted the following year , finishing in the lower to mid table until 2010 where they finished 3rd. Where are the talks of Pep out? just a first year? Do we have such amnesia to where Man City were undefeated for the majority of the start of this season?

    Liverpool- have yet to win a title in the Premier League Era. Klapo has revived Liverpool from the Suarez , and even Fernando Torres eras respectively, they are playing great football.

    To talk about Spurs , no they are not a flash in the bottle, they have always been more competitve oppositions to the “Elite” clubs in England. But it proves the point there are Cinderella stories in England too… comparing to your Atalanta reference. How about those Foxes from last year.

    In conclusion, I believe the EPL is the most entertaining league to watch because it is more balanced than other leagues around Europe. However UEFA distributes the champions league places differently which may distort results. A major factor in UEFA spot allocations is league point totals between teams. La Liga champs / runners up average 90… where as England is much lower , same as the Germans. England league play is closer which is why NBC bought rights to broadcast their season.

    I could go on about ” Wenger Out ” as an Arsenal fan, but it would be wasted. Players need to preform, it’s a team, not a manager. Someone needs to take charge on the field, and they haven’t had that since Tony Adams, Patrick Vieria. But hey, Wenger out sells papers , and some Arsenal fans are so plastic that they fuel the fires. Wenger was the reason Sánchez and Özil signed … and Henry, Fabregas, Van Persia… etc. Team needs to preform as a team, enough complaining and accept the facts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great to hear the POV of an Arsenal fan. You broke out some solid data and we all know that numbers don’t lie. Crazy how the Invincibles title run was 13 years ago. What a team. I certainly don’t think the EPL is mediocre, but the teams fighting for the top 4 have not been good enough to win their own league, but just good enough to qualify for Europe (the Leicester anomaly doesn’t help). Other than Chelsea, it’s hard to imagine one of these teams winning the Champions League next season. But that’s why you play games, right?


  2. Ooooooh, another discussion. I want in!! This is a bit delayed, and even though I don’t REALLY have much to say on the subject (wow was I wrong about this), what the hell, I’ll give it a whirl…

    (Editor’s note: This became a lot longer than I originally planned for it to be. Apparently I had a lot more to say about it than I thought. Proceed at your own risk.)

    It’s hard to argue that the EPL isn’t THE most entertaining league in the world. This year has actually been quite exciting all around the world in a lot of the respective leagues, as the status quo teams aren’t running away with the title, as they normally do. But Feyenoord’s unexpected “Leicester-esque” Cinderella story triumph in the Eredivisie, Monaco’s dethroning of PSG in Ligue 1, Madrid’s staving off Barcelona’s title challenge and recent league dominance to potentially win their first La Liga trophy since the Mourinho Era, and Guangzhou Evergrande FC’s unexpected dominance in the Chinese Super League (just kidding, I don’t know anything about this team or league), have all proved to their respective leagues why the EPL is the most popular in the modern age. It’s not the prettiest league and it doesn’t have the best players in the world in it, but good God is it entertaining. The EPL manages to pull off the type of excitement being seen in these other leagues this year on a yearly basis. And even though, yes, the league title has just been bouncing back and forth between London and Manchester for the last decade, Leicester City really shook things up with their title winning campaign and nobody is guaranteed anything anymore. There are arguably 7 teams (not even counting Leicester, as they will likely finish 11th this year) that vie for the top spot every year. One could try to argue that of those 7, only 3 are most likely to actually win the title, while the rest battle for the best of the rest, but going back to Leicester, that’s actually a fallacy.

    Nobody can take anything for granted anymore. Assumptions and presumptions are moot in this day and age, as the title winners of the last two years were not the predicted winners at the beginning of the season. I think the word mediocrity is a bit of a strong word to use in this sense. Arsenal are just as good as Tottenham on any given day and Man City could just as well beat Chelsea on theirs. Same could be said about Man United and Liverpool and really just about anyone in the league. Anyone can beat anyone at anytime. Because of the quality of the top 7 teams, finishing in the top 4 will likely be the goal for a lot of those teams now. As Liverpool and Chelsea found themselves in recent years, playing without champions league, Arsenal and Man United (again) find themselves in the same position, but as it has served both Chelsea and Liverpool well to have a year off to rebuild, I think Arsenal fans shouldn’t be too disappointed with what’s to come, as there’s an obvious shake-up needed at the club.

    Wenger has had quite a glittering career as Arsenal manager, but I think what the fans, players and club all need now, is a fresh start. I don’t put Arsenal’s problems squarely on his shoulders, just as it was hard to blame Mourinho last year in Chelsea’s title defense capitulation, because at the end of the day, the players just weren’t performing. I didn’t want Mourinho to leave either, even though the club were languishing and in freefall, but since his departure, Chelsea has been experiencing quite the renaissance that it’s hard to argue that that wasn’t exactly what the club needed. The year out of the Champions League certainly helped with that too. I think it’s just time for him to step back and let the club take a new direction. The idea of someone like Simeone coming into the club, I believe would shake up the whole Premier League, and make Arsenal title favorites right from the beginning of the season, as Conte did. With Arsene still at the helm next year, it’s hard to imagine them getting into the top 3 in my personal opinion. What could he do that he hasn’t been able to do in the last couple years over one more summer transfer period?? If Mourinho had stayed on this year, I find it hard to believe that he would’ve been able to galvanize the current Chelsea squad to challenge for the title. I doubt even a top 4 finish would’ve been realistic. He certainly wouldn’t have brought in the type of players that Chelsea ended up bringing into their first team that lead them to title glory (see: David Luiz, Moses, Alonso, Kante, etc). And maybe for Arsenal, they need an outsider to come in and look at their problems from a different angle and find a solution that maybe Wenger hasn’t been able to come up with by himself.

    What this all boils down to though, is that one could make the argument that almost all of the teams in the top 7 this year, were at one point in contention for the title (Sorry Everton, I might be giving you too much credit). There were some missteps here and there and some teams lost games they shouldn’t have lost, but aside for Everton, I don’t think anyone would’ve been surprised to see any of the other teams take it all. Each one of them has quality enough to finish first (just maybe not enough depth to last the whole season), and certainly enough quality to finish in the top 4. So the argument that they might be too mediocre, I think is a bit naïve. If Chelsea and Tottenham hadn’t run away with it towards the end of the campaign, the title most likely would’ve gone down to the final week with just a few points separating everyone.

    I don’t believe Chelsea are title favorites next year. I think they’re top 4 favorites, but unless they bring in some world class faces to compete on 4 fronts next year, I don’t see it happening. Pep has already admitted that he’s lucky to have been given a second chance, and that had he been at any of his previous “big” clubs (his words, not mine), a la Bayern and Barca, he would’ve been long gone. I don’t see he or Mourinho faltering nearly as much in their second year. Tottenham have become the new “almost won the title” team that Arsenal has been coined over the last few years, and so you can easily see them fighting to the end again. They definitely need to have a good summer transfer window to actually make a mark in the Champions League however. And one could argue that Liverpool play the most attractive football when all their players are all fit. Needless to say, the league is still wide open. And it sounds like it’s going to be just as exciting next year as this year was.

    *Also, I believe the quote was more like “AGUEROOOoooOOoooooOOOOOOOOOooo!!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just read your entire comment. All 1,204 words. Lots of good points to debate in there. Bravo! I’ll touch on a few: would Mou have finished top of the table this season with this current Chelsea team? Aside from the new additions you mentioned (high quality at that), that was his squad. So advantage Conte. And Chelsea will reload. Conte wants to rebuild with younger, faster legs (read my James Rodriguez post, so I’d say the champions are already early favorites to repeat. Now regarding mediocrity, let’s look at it in the context of billionaire owners and millionaire coaches/footballers. Shouldn’t a big club like Arsenal compete for the title every year? Or is finishing 18 points from the top and barely qualifying for Europe an acceptable consolation prize (and they may still miss out on the Champions League)? Everton fighting for 4th and Arsenal/ManU fighting for 4th are two very different scenarios. And Guangzhou Evergrande FC? All I can say is that I like their logo and mission: “Be the Best Forever”


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