English Premiership still in rude health

Saturday February 8 2020

Southampton’s Austrian coach Hasenhuttl

Southampton’s Austrian coach Hasenhuttl (C) has made the Saints capable of beating any opponent. AGENCIES PHOTO 


SOCCER- Liverpool’s unprecedented 22-point cushion atop England’s top flight league ahead of the winter break has tongues wagging. Questions are being asked.

Foremost among them is whether it is even possible for a division in which one team is so dominant to still be competitive, and therefore entertaining? It’s a question borne out of selective amnesia, as hardly eight months have elapsed since Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal contested Europe’s two showpiece finals.

All the same, they have a point. Manchester City’s implosion from a one hundred point a season juggernaut, to a staggering side that can hardly clock ninety points implies last year’s finale in which they traded the lead until the final minutes of the Premier League cannot be repeated. Fans are understandably downcast without the thrills, spills and melodrama of the City v Liverpool two-horse race. Nonetheless, to suggest that the Premier League is anything but absolute reality TV entertainment, would be to take an unnecessary flight from reality.

The EPL is the only division in which all ten matches each weekend are determined by thin margins. Liverpool’s 4-0 demolition of Southampton is a perfect illustration of how thin margins are keeping billions glued to the EPL. For sixty solid minutes, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s full pitch pressing Saints matched Jurgen Klopp’s Reds in every department. But for a denied penalty following Fabinho’s double trip on Danny Ings, the outcome could have been different. Outcomes didn’t reflect performance in Spurs v City, Watford v Everton and Newcastle v Norwich; with the Canaries defying their basement position to lay siege on the Magpies at St James Park.

Presence of all of England’s Top Six, plus Wolves, in the knock out rounds of this season’s Uefa competitions is further evidence that the EPL is in rude health. The Wolves versus Espanyol Europa League duel will help answer the conundrum of how teams outside the traditional powerhouses would fare against their continental counterparts.

Have no doubt EPL clubs would emerge tops if a post season mini league featuring the bottom three of Europe’s five main leagues was ever conceived.