Once marketed as the ‘best league in the world’, the Premier League settles for using competitiveness as its unique selling point.

Compared to the year-on-year supremacy of Paris Saint Germain, the seemingly inevitable titles of Bayern Munich and the Clasico-centred dominance in Spain, the Premier League seems to be more competitive.

Competition has different forms, though. The anyone-can-beat-anybody line is peddled, as is the comparatively varied list of league title winners.

People’s motives for a ‘competitive’ league are different. Pure competition would mean the newly promoted sides had a very solid chance of lifting the trophy in May.

While that would be fun, it likely wouldn’t be popular with fans of the other 17 Premier League clubs.

Keeping any league, in any sport, legitimately competitive is key to retaining interest. The Premier League, by its promoters at least, is thought to be competitive, but there’s plenty to suggest otherwise.


Runaway Winners

Liverpool are miles clear. There was a title race in 2018/19, but Manchester City and Liverpool were so dominant, it was a peculiar end to the season.

City were 19 points clear in 2017/18. Antonio Conte’s Chelsea went on an early season run and never looked under pressure in the year before.

Even Leicester’s win in 2016 saw them end the campaign 10 points ahead of Arsenal, despite drawing three of their last five matches.

Title races have been rare events in the Premier League. If the elite of the division is where we define a league’s competitiveness, the Premier League fails that test.

The relegation contests and top four battles have been where the intrigued has lied in recent years. There’s VAR in the Premier League, which some hoped would see fewer decisions favouring the top teams.

There is, as we’ll come onto shortly, huge spending power among the top six clubs. Yet still, the league leaders run away into the distance more often than not.

Big gaps between teams occurs elsewhere, too. Sixth-placed Manchester United were 23 points clear of eighth-placed Southampton in 2016/17.

Fifth-placed Chelsea were 16 points ahead of seventh-placed Burnley in 2017/18. Last season was similar; Wolves were seventh, 13 points off Arsenal in fifth.


Financial Inequality

A Premier League salary cap isn’t close to becoming reality. A league with a television deal unmatched in world football, owners with more money than most can comprehend, is the home of sporting inequality.

As Spotrac’s payroll tracker shows, the difference in player wage spending in the Premier League is vast.

Wolves, with the 18th-biggest payroll, spend around a fifth of Manchester City and less than half of what Tottenham hand out to their players each year - Spurs are sixth overall and have a strict wage structure.

The Premier League had 11 of the 30 biggest clubs in the world by revenue per Deloitte’s 2020 list. That’s six more than Italy, and seven more than Spain and Germany.

Arsenal are the lowest of the top six in 11th – their revenue was over double of the next Premier League club, West Ham. Premier League clubs are wealthier than their European counterparts, but the difference between the top six and the rest is stark.

David Conn of the Guardian delved into the 2017/18 figures. West Brom had the joint-lowest revenue at £125 million, Everton were seventh-highest at £189 million. Sixth-highest Spurs were almost double that.

There’s a chasm between the top six and the rest. The Premier League just isn’t competitive off the pitch.


Limited Mobility

Leicester City can be used as an example of the upward mobility in the Premier League. Sheffield United, although less high-profile, are similar. Both represent freak events.

The root of the Premier League’s competitiveness issue – and this spreads across football worldwide – is financial power.

The super-rich have a very high floor, and the less wealthy clubs have a limited ceiling over a longer period. Manchester United have security that they are always going to be better than a certain level: Burnley do not have that.

The openings for Leicester in 2016 and Sheffield United in 2020 were largely down to subpar performances from the usual top six.

That doesn’t downplay their achievements, but those who have followed the Premier League are well aware that Leicester’s glorious title win was as much about the demise of the Manchester clubs and Chelsea as it was about Jamie Vardy’s sensational finishing, discovering N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez turning into one of the league’s greatest bargains.

A league with such riches might share them better than La Liga, but the financial muscle of the non-top-six is incomparable to those who can throw hundreds of thousands per week at an ageing Alexis Sanchez.

That is a barrier to competitiveness. A barrier that, as a European Super League is mentioned with greater frequency, is becoming harder, not easier, to overcome.

Financial fair play has stopped owners giving teams a leg up as the wall to the top six has been built higher.

Investment that elevated Chelsea and Manchester City into the Champions League, that allowed them to attract the biggest names in the sport and win trophies, isn’t possible without facing FFP punishments.

The Premier League is competitive in its own way. The top six squabble among themselves – the group of top clubs is, in theory, bigger than elsewhere.

This year could be argued as a changing of the league’s dynamic, but turmoil at Arsenal and Tottenham, and whatever the situation is at Old Trafford, suggest this is a blip rather than the Premier League’s new normal. All three could yet finish in the top seven.

Resources at the top six mean they should be way better than the rest. When they aren’t it reflects a failing on their part.

Too often the Premier League is broken down into separate mini-leagues – a top six, a mid-table race for seventh and a relegation fight.

To call its competitiveness a myth is too strong. It is certainly overplayed, however, and as ever, it comes down to money.


*Credit for the main photo belongs to Jon Super / AP Photo*

Sam is a sports tipster, specialising in the Premier League and Champions League.

He covers most sports, including cricket and Formula One. Sam particularly enjoys those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – notably MLB and NBA.

Watching, writing and talking about sports betting takes up most of his time, whether that is for a day out at T20 Finals Day or a long night of basketball.

Having been writing for several years, Sam has been working with 888Sport since 2016, contributing multiple articles per week to the blog.