EPL: This Is Beyond Complicated
Issue 15, Volume 112
At the end of a Premier League season, the glory does not only go to the club that emerged victorious. There is much prestige seen in a squad narrowly avoiding relegation or one managing to qualify for the Champions League. As we approach the end of the 2021-2022 Premier League season, there is a tight race for the league title, a Champions League berth, and the position above the relegation zone.
Re-entering the Premier League for what seems like the millionth time will be Fulham FC, featuring high-scoring Aleksandar Mitrović and defensive protégés Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson. The dominance Fulham displayed in the Championship will hopefully migrate to the Premier League, with the club looking to cement their spot in the league. Bournemouth will be joining them, having beaten Nottingham Forest to secure the second promotion slot. The third team heading up is yet to be decided, with the primary contenders being Huddersfield Town, Nottingham Forest, Luton Town, and Sheffield United. Most of these clubs are yo-yo sides, bouncing between the Premier League and the Championship, but single-season league income could allow these sides to make splash signings and improve their position in the top flight over time.
At the bottom of the table, Norwich City and Watford have almost certainly earned relegation to the Championship, sitting at 21 and 22 points respectively. In reaction to Norwich City’s 3-0 loss to Newcastle, manager Dean Smith explained the problems the club has been facing. “We’ve continually made mistakes that have given goals away,” he said. Norwich has a lot to improve on, especially on their own side of the pitch. They’ve only had more than 50 percent possession for five of their 33 matches played, limiting their chances for attacking opportunities and instead playing tiresome, gritty defense. Their partners in misery, Watford, have experienced similar problems with possession, featuring the league’s worst possession average. The team also lacks scoring, having only 31 goals leading up to their Burnley fixture. Both of these teams will require major signings and developments to return to the Premier League through promotion.
Fighting to stay out of the relegation zone are Everton, Burnley, and Leeds United. Everton sits in 18th place, two points behind Burnley and Leeds. With their 1-0 victory against third-place Chelsea, Everton showed their fans that the club can escape relegation. The Toffees played an incredible game all around, with a stellar performance by English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. If Everton can continue to produce performances like they did against the Blues, they can get points against Leicester City, Watford, Bentford, Crystal Palace, and Arsenal.
Burnley made one of the biggest moves of the season when they fired manager Sean Dyche. Known for squeezing Burnley out of relegation in previous years, this was a questionable move from the Clarets. However, it has proved to be successful as the Clarets have gone on a four game unbeaten streak, earning 10 points. Unfortunately, they will face Newcastle, Tottenham, and Villa twice to close out the season.
Though Burnley is yet to face top clubs, Leeds faces the toughest remaining schedule out of the three teams. They will face two top five clubs in their final four matches, closing out against Brighton and Brentford. If Everton wins at least two of their mid table matches, they could step over Leeds on the way to safety. Everton has never been relegated since the inception of the Premier League since 1992, and the implications of such a large drop could be huge for the club’s fanbase, future, and finances.
On the other hand, the top four race, the minimum berth for a team to qualify for the Champions League, is also a point of interest in the Premier League, and perhaps the most contested. 11 points separate seventh place West Ham from fourth placed Arsenal, and only two points between Arsenal and Tottenham. For bigger clubs, Champions League football is a luxury as even just qualifying for the group stage gives the team an extra €15.64m. This season, two out of a possible five spots have been clinched for the Champions League as Liverpool and Manchester City have been playing in a league of their own.
Currently, Chelsea F.C. is in third place. A few weeks ago, it seemed like Chelsea was easily heading to the Champions League with a comfortable lead over fourth and fifth placed Tottenham and Arsenal. However, with a brutal nine scheduled games in the past month, the Chelsea players have lost their form. In the last six games, the Blues were embarrassed by mid-table Brentford, lost a crucial game to a young Arsenal squad, and drew to one of the worst Manchester United teams in the last decade. Perhaps their most embarrassing loss of the streak was giving relegation-threatened Everton three vital points. Chelsea has had more possession and shots in most of their games, but they are inefficient at converting precious chances into goals. Without any trophies so far this season, Chelsea fans would love to win the FA Cup and rebuild, getting back into their dominant form by the beginning of next season.
Meanwhile, Arsenal and Tottenham are battling it out for the fourth and final Champions League spot as they are within two points of each other with few games left in the season. Arsenal fans have had one of the most nerve-racking seasons out of any team in the league. In the beginning of the year, Arsenal was a complete disaster, nearing the relegation zone. However, after a few months, the youngsters began to click, showing determination that got them to the fourth spot. They have lost midtable matches and won matches against top clubs, with every week being an unpredictable adventure for the club. Tottenham has also battled midseason turmoil prior to the appointment of Antonio Conte. Since then, the team has improved significantly, though Conte’s system has taken some time to produce results on the pitch. Forwards Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane have been the scoring duo, and their partnership has produced 37 goals for Tottenham, the most of any duo in the league.
Two titans are contending for the top spot right now: Liverpool and Manchester City. Both clubs are establishing dynasties, and their squads are proving highly successful in one of Europe’s most competitive leagues. Liverpool has the better offense, with an average of 2.58 goals per game compared to City’s 2.36. City has allowed 0.64 goals per game compared to Liverpool’s 0.67, but these statistical comparisons are enough to show how similarly skilled both clubs are. The best way to set these two clubs apart is to look at their upcoming fixtures. Tottenham and West Ham are comparable, separated by six points in the table. Both clubs are slated to play Newcastle, Aston Villa, and Wolverhampton. Manchester City ripped Leeds United to shreds, but Liverpool is yet to play Southampton, a notably stronger side but an expected win.
For Liverpool, these remaining few weeks will determine if they can achieve the greatest honor in European football. The Reds have already won the Carabao Cup in a 0-0 draw against Chelsea, concluding with a wild 11-10 penalty shootout. They are contending for the Champions League, where they face Real Madrid to be crowned the champions of Europe. They will also be facing Chelsea on May 14 in the FA Cup final. If they win the FA Cup against a slightly deformed Chelsea squad and take home the Premier League and Champions League titles over Manchester City, they would produce the second quadruple cup season in the history of English football. Though Liverpool has already secured the Carabao Cup, the final three pieces of their quadruple cup will need to be assembled in a month packed with key matches. The key scoring provided by Mohammad Salah has set their offense apart, while Virgil van Djik has shown no slack in leading the Reds to the second best defense in the Premier League. They are incredible, but their extreme workload against other talented clubs may be what brings them down. Though Liverpool is unlikely to stay strong enough to win all four competitions, it is highly probable that they will walk away with wins in two or three of them, which still constitutes a highly successful season.
In most American sports, there is no glory for a team that falls short of winning a championship, but in the Premier League, many teams have different goals. For one, simply being in the Premier League generates a massive amount of revenue that teams can invest into players and club maintenance. At the same time, there is a clear financial disparity between the top clubs with billionaire owners and the lower ones. The future of the Premier League has been dramatically altered by the presence of Middle Eastern money, specifically in Manchester City and now Newcastle United, where the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia has secured a majority stake. At the same time, there are clubs that don't require billions of dollars to stay in the Premier League, as shown by Brentford FC. They use moneyball tactics, purchasing undervalued players to sell at higher values, while developing some players into star pieces to improve their club’s standing. They have proven that any club can be able to compete in this million-pound league. The Premier League’s future has a lot to behold, and the money going through will incentivize clubs to try new tactics as they claw their way to the top of English football.