Competition has long been used as the Premier League’s USP. While most European leagues are dominated by one or two clubs (see the Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A), England’s top-flight is widely viewed as a more open, unpredictable affair which has produced five different champions in the last 10 years with the title retained just once in that time.
Manchester City’s recent record of three titles in four years has threatened the USP of ‘The Greatest League In The World’, but this is nothing compared to the gulf that could now open up between the best and the rest at the top of the Premier League table.
With just four games of the new 2021/22 campaign played, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City occupy the top four spots. These are, of course, the same four teams that were widely tipped as title contenders before the start of the season. They will take some catching.
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Chelsea, Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs have all flexed their considerable muscle over the early part of the season. Two of the four have new big-name strikers who have hit the ground running while a third has integrated a record Premier League signing who cost £100m.
Going on the estimated value of this season’s Premier League squads, there is a rather predictable look to the table even at this early stage. Chelsea (£794m), City (£934m), Liverpool (£792m) and United (£844m) boast the most expensive squads and so their strength on the pitch should come as no surprise.
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates
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There is a significant drop-off between these estimated values and that of Tottenham Hotspur’s squad value which stands at £623m and an even greater drop-off to Leicester City and Arsenal who have a squad worth a respective £495m and £494m. If the so-called ‘Big Six’ ever existed, it’s now at serious risk of being fragmented.
It could be argued that the Premier League has never been stronger than it is right now. In any other season, Chelsea, City, Liverpool and United could expect to stroll to the title. Weaker teams have lifted the Premier League trophy in the past. The quality of whoever emerges victorious this season will not be in doubt.
Even with a growing gap between the top four and the rest, the Premier League can still claim to be more competitive than every other top five league in Europe, but a worrying precedent has been set in a division that has grown and grown through fairer distribution than is commonly the case elsewhere in the game.
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England’s biggest clubs might not have got their way with the ill-fated creation of the Super League, but they are proving more successful in their forging of a league within a league. Chelsea, City, Liverpool and United might still be Premier League clubs, but there is a breakaway taking place.
This isn’t to say the gulf will never be bridged again, but the list of things that need to occur for that to happen is getting longer and longer. Liverpool suffered a defensive injury crisis last season while Chelsea changed managers mid-campaign and Leicester City continued to build and still the top four stayed the same. The advantage these clubs have given themselves is vast. When clubs as big as Arsenal and Spurs stand no chance of breaking through, there’s a problem.
Chelsea, City, Liverpool and United might well produce the most compelling title race ever witnessed in Premier League history this season, but the cost of this entertainment could be profound. This season could signify a point of no return for the English game which is increasingly being split in two.
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