category: England

For all the glory and the grandeur that goes with winning the Premier League, there is a growing consensus that what happens at the other end of the table is where the real drama lies. Whilst the title race can at times feel like watching a couple of millionaires squabbling over the price of a hot dog, the relegation battle has a lot more bite to it.

If the cost of missing out on the title is a place in the Champions League – in the style of Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal – then the difference between coming first and fourth is arguably not that great.

Compare that with what happens when sides are relegated. The salutary lessons of Portsmouth and Blackburn, who have suffered all the agonies of the damned since they slipped out of the top flight, suggest that there is far more at stake at the foot of the table than the top.

What’s more, it’s a much more dramatic and dynamic contest. Watching Chelsea and Manchester City serially steamroller their way through the season is not what the Premier League is meant to be about. We’ve scoffed at the serial domestic successes of the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid and, in years gone by, at the way Celtic and Rangers similarly dominated in Scotland. The drama of uneven contests is only occasionally even vaguely dramatic.

If Chelsea’s defeat at Newcastle is only interesting because it’s a break from the norm, we might as well just watch the traffic and wait for a yellow car to pass by. As impressive as unremitting excellence might be, it’s the human business of grappling with limited resources and the fear of failure that are what makes sport worth watching.

It also makes for a much more dynamic betting market. With more teams involved and continually fluctuating league standings, there is greater scope for punters to cash in on their insight. Comparing different bookmakers’ odds at somewhere like is a way to win twice over. The dynamism at this end of the table makes for a much more uneven marketplace.

Pinpointing sides’ weaknesses as well as their strengths requires a keener appreciation than is routinely offered by the media’s pampered pundits. It takes a more fully developed football intelligence to dig beneath the superlatives of individual brilliance and to get to grips with the real mechanics of team building. The bottom half of the table is football for grown-ups.

14076522643_15b1f38d26_z   by  wonker 

Watching a master craftsman at work is only one-part instructive. It is watching someone more like ourselves that we can learn something. Watching Cesc Fabregas will not teach me how to see a pass, but seeing how Burnley’s willing but limited Adrian Barnes strives to work around his limitations offers a template that I can begin to understand. And remember, the likes of Barnes are to all intents and purposes performing on a high wire with no safety net. There is no room for error at the foot of the table. It makes for a truly gripping drama irrespective of allegiance.

Year-on-year the backs-to-the-wall intensity of the relegation battle makes for far more gripping fare than the inevitable fading away of title contenders. We should give those struggling sides far more credit than that routinely offered by the media. It is them rather than the runaway millionaires at the top who make the Premier League the greatest league in the world.


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