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For much of the past two decades, English football has been kidding itself that it has the best league, the best fans, the best teams and the best managers in the world. You hear it in every interview from an overseas signing, every English fan complaining about the lack of national team success and every time Sky, BT and whoever else renews their TV rights for an increasingly gargantuan sum of money. “We have the best league in the world.”
In my opinion, this has been for the most part false. That’s not to say that one or more of the accolades haven’t been true at any one point. Arsenal and Manchester United fans would probably argue that they had both the best team and the best manager accolades at certain times during the 2000s. Anfield has always been iconic for its atmosphere and of course the 2008 Champions League final lockout would be a reasonable point made if you wanted to look at the strength of the league.
It is also true to say that the Premier League is the most watched in the world. It’s certainly the best commercially and it has undoubtedly been my greatest source of entertainment in the last 20 years. I have always said that La Liga, however, is a better league. The sheer amount of the two main European trophies that have gone to Spanish teams illustrates this. Of course Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two giants and not many have toppled their dominance domestically. In the Champions League, it isn’t too much of a throwback to remember Bilbao, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid dispatching Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal respectively in Europe’s secondary competition.
With the first weekend on the new season just gone, my opinions are changing. Manchester City looks impervious; every time I watch them I wonder how they are possibly going to lose. Their second goal against West Ham last weekend was so simple yet it oozed the quality we’ve become accustomed to from the blue half of Manchester in the last few seasons. Liverpool will face tougher opposition than that which Norwich provided last Friday but with the same team that secured a staggering 97 points last year, no doubt they will continue to be fantastic again this year.
Arsenal and Manchester United have made some much needed improvements to their teams and will really push hard for the Champions League spots, amazingly it may be their additions in central defence, either £8 million David Luiz or £80 million Harry Maguire, which decides either clubs fortunes.
Tottenham and Chelsea will be hoping that they can’t be derailed by the temporary or permanent absence of a single man. Kane’s injury issues and Hazard’s transfer to Real Madrid are not things any fan of the Premier League wants and certainly not an easy thing for a team to deal with.
Everton, Leicester and Wolves play some fantastic football and have invested heavily in trying to break the top six and get themselves in to Europe. All three purchased centre forwards to bring the firepower they hope will guide them to where they want to be. Personally I believe, Everton look to be the strongest outside of the top six and could pounce on any of the teams that finished above them last year if they begin to falter.
It also speaks huge amounts for where the Premier League is at that at the other end of the table I can’t look much further than Sheffield United and Norwich as certainties to go down. The step up is huge and will be so difficult to make. Aston Villa too, despite their huge spending, I can see struggling, trying to create a cohesive unit in one summer preseason is very difficult to do and a failure to hit the ground running creates a mountain to climb.
For the first time in a long time I believe it can be said that the Premier League is the best in the world. The quality is high for most of the 20 teams competing and mid-table teams have been able to spend at a good level in the transfer market. I have heard a lot of commentators suggest that we are strangling the game, the introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) being the main focus of this argument, but I am far more optimistic. Strap in, be excited, the Premier League is back and it’s better than ever.