The Premier League has been marketed as the best league in the world for some time.
It’s a statement that can be interpreted in different ways; does it mean most competitive? Most exciting? Or perhaps highest quality?
The Premier League, at different times, has had a reasonable claim to each of those. Being all three is a challenge, and you could argue it isn’t possible.
A return to supremacy in the Europa League and Champions League is a reflection of not only the Premier League’s riches, but its depth of talent (they are, of course, linked).
Arsenal and Chelsea could put up a fight in the Champions League, but they were left in the secondary competition and cruised through to the final in Baku.
Liverpool’s domestic performance warranted a deep Champions League run for the second straight season.
Tottenham faltered in the league but managed to get past Manchester City and Ajax to appear in their first ever European Cup final. 888sport are offering Tottenham at 6/4 to win in Madrid in their football betting.
Liverpool and Manchester City got much of the attention thanks to a title race of the highest level. They may well be the two best sides in Europe right now.
They were miles ahead of the chasing pack in the Premier League, but it’s the standards at Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and even Manchester United that make the Premier League special.
All four, even a dysfunctional Manchester United, are of Champions League calibre.
The split between the top two and the rest gave us competitiveness that the Premier League has lacked in recent years. The contest for a top four finish was interesting because of their failings. The title race was tense because of their near perfection.
It was no more than a fluke that four of the top six was sub-par and two were majestic. It wasn’t some genius orchestrated plan from the Premier League office, nor was it a sign of the league being superior to others.
The season gave us an interesting comparison.
The title race and top four battle are an example of entertainment versus quality. For all the Sky Sports promos and records broken, the top two weren’t thrilling in spring.
It was impressive, and tense at times, but the quality of Liverpool and Manchester City meant many games were non-competitive, and all too often predictable.
Liverpool and City enhanced the Premier League’s claim as ‘the best in the world’ from a quality perspective. Two teams passing 95 points, though, does not scream competitiveness.
It felt more obviously competitive, with each of Chelsea, Arsenal, United and Spurs capable of slipping up to anyone at any time.
The standard was obviously lower – all four were terrible in the closing weeks of the season – but three of them are in European finals.
The Premier League was fortunate that they got the best of both worlds. Liverpool and Manchester City provided the flawless football, and their fellow top six sides gave us the cruder entertainment and unpredictability.
While the top six remains an established, closed-doors club, the mid-table teams are improving with every season. The vast majority of the 14 other Premier League teams were capable of taking points off Spurs, United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Wolves, Leicester, Everton and West Ham rounded out the top 10. Watford are in an FA Cup Final. All of them, through a combination of good recruitment and management, can go toe-to-toe with top six sides. Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Bournemouth can cause upsets.
The top clubs still have financial competition in Juventus, PSG, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
The not-quite-top-six calibre of players are flooding to the Premier League. With Chelsea set to lose Hazard and Manchester United in continuous turmoil, a good summer of recruitment could see one of the upper-mid-table teams break into the top six.
For the league to tick all the ‘best in the world’ boxes, it needs a change to the top six status quo.
The European performances tick the quality box. Exciting is subjective, though there’s a case to be made after Vincent Kompany’s screamer and the meandering battle for Champions League qualification.
Steps have been made towards competitiveness. To tick that box, though, a team outside the top six needs to show they can dream of something beyond seventh.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*