The English Premier League is considered by many to be the best football league in the world. There are atleast 3-4 favourites to win the title at the halfway point every year and you can never consider any fixture to be an easy win. Not only the title race, but even the relegation battle becomes increasingly thrilling as the season progresses. It’s not just high on quality, but high on the excitement levels as well. But year after year, Premier League teams struggle in the Europe’s Premier competition and fail to compete at the same level as the Spanish, German and even the Italian giants. In each of the 2006/07, 2007/08 and the 2008/09 seasons, the EPL produced 3 of the 4 semi finalists with the 2008 final being an all English final between Manchester United and Chelsea. However, in the last 6 years, the EPL has produced only 4 semifinalists in total. Why has the level of domination deteriorated so quickly?
The Concentration of Wealth in the respective leagues
In Spain, no one can match the spending power of Real Madrid and Barcelona. In Germany, Bayern Munich basically play in the league to scout for promising players from the rest of the teams and buy them at the end of the season. Juventus work in a similar way too. In England however, improved TV rights and whole new wave of sponsorship has made every team capable of spending exorbitant amounts just to buy fairly average players. The fact that Everton paid 30 million for Bolasie (which is more than what Real Madrid paid for Toni Kroos) highlights this. As a result, prices are inflated and keeping transfers in line with the Financial Fair Play Rule becomes harder. While this is good for the league as a whole, it makes it nearly impossible for teams to maintain a strong squad depth. If a player believes that he is too good for the bench, he can simply force a move and, with the increasing cash flow in the league, he is assured that most teams in the league will be able to afford his wage requirements (Schneiderlin, for example). In 2008, United had the luxury of having Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Dimiatar Berbatov as striking options apart from a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. Today, Ibrahimovic is their most (and only) lethal striker and he is 35 years old. It’s almost impossible to succeed in over 4 different competitions with a squad depth this low.
Fixture Congestion and an Uncooperative FA
The Christmas fixtures is something that every football fan loves. While the rest of Europe is on break, the Premier League enters its most action packed matchdays as fans are entertained to matches once every 3-4 days. While this is bound to make fans happy, it adds to the fatigue level of the players, who will simply not be able to maintain the high performance level for the remainder of the season. With important fixtures in hand, managers have the headache of ensuring proper squad rotation. But when the league is as competitive as this, managers can’t really afford to make too many changes to the lineup. The intense fixture period also increases the probability of players getting injured and the team momentum getting derailed (something that Arsenal and Liverpool fans know all about). Year after year, several high profile voices ask for the introduction of a winter break in the system which will ensure that players get enough rest to recover from the gruelling fixtures. But no action has been taken so far. At this point, it is unfair to blame the teams for their failures when the main body in charge is least concerned about it.
Negative Attitude against Europe’s top teams
Whenever an English team is drawn against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern or any of the giants, they are automatically made to look like the underdogs. The tactics become more and more defensive with emphasis given to counter attacking football. While counter attacking style is not a negative one, it’s not possible to achieve that with a team of defensive players. Chelsea started with 6 defenders in the games against Atletico in the semi final of the 2013-14 season and it was a home game for them. While it is practical to prepare for the worst against stronger oppositions, giving up on the usual style of play highlights the lack of trust the manager has in his players and this could work against him. In the recent 5-1 hammering against Bayern Munich, Arsenal players looked uninspired for most and you could sense that they had given up on the game long before the full time whistle. While Wenger knew that winning agaisnt the German Champions was hard, he should have taken inspiration from PSG who, on the night before, demolished Barcelona 4-0 and kept what is considered the greatest attacking trio in Europe, under full control. Expecting defensive discipline from the likes of Ozil and Xhaka was foolish because that is not their style of play. Players should believe that they have an equal chance of winning the game and that attitude is becoming increasingly rare to find amongst the Premier League elite.
After the recent hammering of Arsenal and the mediocre form of Leicester City, the Manchester clubs are England’s best bets for European glory this season. But even these teams have not experienced the best of forms over the season so far, so fans aren’t over optimistic. But with the likes of Conte, Mourinho and Guardiola in the league, it’s only a matter of time before they build teams that are capable of challenging for the top European prizes. But not every issue can be solved just by spending a lot on star players. Emphasis must be given towards to improvement of home talent and how to maximize their potential. A change must be brought about in the overall league structure as well. Only when this happens and the Premier League teams become the force they were 10 years back, can the EPL truly be called the ‘Best in the World.’
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