The Premier League's Unpredictability: Fantastic or Worrying?

In February, I wrote a piece on this very site entitled “Where Has It All Gone Wrong In Europe?” in which I tried to give the reader reasons why Premier League sides had faltered so horribly in European competition. A lack of identity and tactical and technical deficiencies were the reasons I settled on and eight months on, those problems have come to the fore once again not only in Europe but domestically as well. So, is this ultra-competitive, slightly less predictable Premier League season a thing of beauty or a horrendous indictment of the quality of English football as a whole?

Well, we can start by saying that domestically at least, we look set for possibly the most exciting season of Premier League football in its 23 year history. Last season’s champions Chelsea look vulnerable and shaky, dropping points all over the shop; Manchester City looked unbeatable before being completely outplayed by Spurs; Manchester United have been steady but are struggling in areas; Liverpool have sacked Brendan Rodgers following a poor start while sides like West Ham and Southampton have been in equal parts amazing and appalling. There have been goals, mistakes, drama and excitement galore and as a fan of football it has certainly been welcomed.

However, excitement does not equal quality and the Premier League has seemed to have lost sight of that fact. Arsenal have already lost to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos in Europe this season which for a club with the size and stature of Arsenal is a complete and utter shambles. Manchester United were beaten by PSV who, while an excellent side, should really be no match for the multi-million talents in that United squad. Chelsea were humbled by Porto while Manchester City were outclassed by Juventus before being given an almighty scare by Borussia Monchengladbach. Liverpool have struggled to draws with Sion and Bordeaux. It’s no longer even remotely funny how poor English sides are in Europe anymore. There was a time English sides dominated European football but the continent has caught up and caught harder and faster than anyone could have imagined.

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And there is a very good reason for that. While the top leagues around Europe are competitive, they are also seeing massive changes in the ways clubs operate. Look towards Spain where Barcelona stopped buying international talent and began promoting from within, playing their own brand of football and found instant success. Valencia after years of financial struggle have promoted from within and brought others on relatively cheap deals. Atletico Madrid have stopped throwing cash at problems and signed players willing and hungry to work for the team. They’ve experienced an upturn in fortunes when they’ve changed focus and aimed to build a culture rather than a who’s who of football.

Over in Germany, Borussia Dortmund have seen their success built on a consistent philosophy on how they will play the game and a shrewd transfer policy that has seen them replace big names and stars with new, hungry players. Out went Lewandowski, in came Aubameyang. Out went Gotze, in came Mkhitaryan. All quality players, all players that bought into and fitted the Dortmund philosophy. Meanwhile English sides just hoover up as much talent as they can, then attempt to shoehorn them into a system before the manager gets the sack for poor results.

Wait, haven’t I said this before? Well, yes I have but it rings even truer now than it ever has and it is now starting to change domestic football as well. Liverpool attempted to shoehorn Benteke into their system and struggled with teams no longer scared of Anfield. Chelsea signed the likes of Pedro and Falcao but Southampton, Swansea and Newcastle weren’t scared by them and took it to the champions. Manchester City’s multi-millionaires had to be bailed out by a youngster named Kelechi Iheanacho at Crystal Palace. The gap between top and bottom is closing while the gap between the Championship and Premier League is closing as well. Now that’s great for viewing figures and the Premier League coffers but for the actual quality of the domestic game? Not a chance.

The emphasis on winning has left a gap for tactical ingenuity and technical showcasing at the cost of gung-ho action and desperation. When did you last watch a Premier League game and think, “these two sides have defended well and have only been split by a moment of genuine quality”? Games can quickly descend into midfield slogfests as well as the in-vogue trend of “passing” football continues to bore fans around the world as teams battle for possession in a 0-0 draw. It’s an incredible oxymoron within itself. Results are the most important thing in football but it seems they’re the only thing in the Premier League as all ideals and philosophies are thrown aside and teams change managers with incredible regularity.

However, this incredible topsy-turvy six or seven weeks of Premier League football is stirring up plenty of drama, emotion and, most importantly, love for the game. Discussions with friends, colleagues, people in the stands take on new meanings as there is no definitive answer to the big questions of the season – who wins the league, who’s going down, are Arsenal still in a crisis etc. – and debate is encouraged by the drama unfolding every time a game is played. Yes, the actual quality is not actually that good when compared to other top leagues but for drama the Premier League is utterly unrivalled.

So that leaves us at the point where I answer my own question – do I love the incredible unpredictability despite the lack of true quality in so many games and the knock-on effect it’s having in Europe or do I champion high quality, soulless football? In truth, I love the drama. It’s exciting to be a football fan in this country when the Premier League is rocking like it is. However, I just wish Premier League clubs would stop embarrassing themselves whenever they venture outside to European competition.

Featured image taken by In Mou We Trust.

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