Premier League now more predictable than ever
You can't say this hasn't been an entertaining Premier League season. Goals are bountiful. The playing style is the most attractive it's ever been. The problem is the results are as predictable as ever. A team in the bottom half of the table is almost certain to lose to the big boys in the top six. Yes, there's one top side that struggles every year, whether it's Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United, but even that's become routine. For the most part, everyone stays in their patch, like a nice orderly suburb across the tracks from a council project. The league needs an urban uprising.
Cardiff will be lucky to take a point from the top clubs this season. Uptown, Manchester City has only dropped two to Wolves while Liverpool remains perfect against bottom-half clubs. Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn against Crystal Palace and West Ham respectively. Tottenham's one loss outside the top six came to seventh-placed Watford. Man United are the lone straggler, losing to both West Ham and Brighton. For all the talk about competitive depth, there is order in the English top flight.
What are the implications?
The gulf in resources seemed to be closing when television revenues went through the roof. Domestic broadcasting money was split almost equally, with two minor portions awarded for a club's place in the final table and the number of times it appeared on television. Of course, that favoured the big clubs, but the smaller teams still received a huge windfall. International rights are distributed equally although any increased revenue in the future will be apportioned according to the season-ending table.
With more than £5 billion in the pot, everyone anticipated the smaller clubs closing the gap. Something else happened.
The Big Six found other revenue streams in the global market that smaller sides couldn't match. Cardiff City, for instance, receives £3.8 million per year from Visit Malaysia to be the club's primary kit sponsor. Manchester United receives nearly ten times that amount annually over the course of its ten-year deal with General Motors to sport the Chevrolet brand on every player's chest. Kit makers such as Nike, Adidas, Puma and Umbro pay even higher fees to the top clubs to outfit them. with such revenue streams limited to the elite sides, the gap is widening rather than closing.
Pep Guardiola is a brilliant manager. He has a deep, brilliant squad at his disposal. Yet it is the money pumped in from the club's Qatari owners that drove the team to challenge the hundred-point threshold last season and again this term.
Increased revenue isn't going to level the playing field in the Premier League or elsewhere. The clubs with global appeal will always eclipse those without when it comes to their bank balance. Only a hard wage cap will change that.
In the meantime, clubs like Leicester and Everton, the Premier League middle class if you will, hang around, building competitive sides that appear just a player or two away from breaking through. If they can keep their best players year after year [we see you Riyad Mahrez and Romelu Lukaku] they just might. Economic reality suggests Claude Puel and Marco Silva will get one shot at the brass ring with a given squad, however. We could see another shocker like the 2015/16 Foxes in our lifetime but don't bet on it.