Money and power

The gulf continues to widen in Europe

City…team of the season so far Photo: PA

THE WAY the so-called “big five” leagues in Europe are progressing this season, we could see more than one team hit the 100 point mark in 2017-18, underlining the progressive dominance of a handful of clubs in the major competitions.

If the leaders of the Premier, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 all continue at their current rate of points accumulation, they will all break the century mark. Only Bayern Munich (who cannot reach 100 points even if they tried given there are four fewer games in the Bundesliga) do not have the potential to reach that landmark this season.

We live in an age where the rich and powerful predictably win the big prizes – there are exceptions such as Leicester City in England in 2016, but mostly, we can comfortably name the title winners or the group from which they will come.

What’s more, title winners are picking up more and more points. In 2016-17, all bar Bayern won the title with 90 or more. The previous season, three of the big five champions accumulated 90-plus points. If you compare these two campaigns with the eight that preceded them, it can be concluded that the big clubs are actually getting more powerful. Between 2007-08 and 2014-15, there were eight champions with 90 or more points.

It is no coincidence that record points hauls have been established in all the big five leagues since 2005 and all bar the Premier have been after 2012:

2004-05 – Chelsea 95 (Premier)
2011-12 – Real Madrid 100 (La Liga)
2012-13 – Barcelona 100 (La Liga)
2013-14 – Bayern Munich 91 (Bundesliga)
2013-14 –  Juventus 102 (Serie A)
2015-16 –  Paris St. Germain 96 (Ligue 1)

League leaders in the big five

  Pts % League and Champions League Win rate

League and Champions League

League only pts % Lead at top of league in percentage  points Gap between top and sixth
Manchester City 96.49 94.74 95.23 19.05 35.71
Paris St. Germain 93.33 90 91.11 22.22 57.78
Barcelona 85.19 77.78 89.74 10.26 35.90
Napoli 77.19 73.68 90.48 4.76 23.81
Bayern Munich 75.93 72.22 74.36 7.69 28.08

Manchester City and Paris St. Germain are clearly the teams in form in domestic as well as European competition. Both are unbeaten in league and Champions League matches and they’re both scoring goals with gay abandon.

Manchester City’s goalscoring power earlier this season was frightening with three victories by a five goal margin and another by six. Already it looks as though the title race in England is bordering on being over, although if there is a glimmer of encouragement, it could be found in more recent results, which have seen them win by more slender margins. Such was the blistering pace of their play in the first nine games, they could not possibly have maintained it over a 38-game programme.

Manchester City’s season in the Premier

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Result W D W W W W W W W W W W W W
Margin of win (goals) 2 1 5 6 5 1 5 3 1 2 2 1 1

City have 19 percentage point advantage over their nearest rivals, Manchester United and the gap between them and the sixth placed club is 35.71. Paris St. Germain’s local dominance is even greater, with 22.22 percentage points more than the second-placed team and a massive 57.78 advantage over the team in sixth. PSG’s goal power is clearly their biggest strength, with 71 goals in 20 games. Eight of their 18 victories have been by three or more goals. They have also become Europe’s most glamorous club thanks to the acquisition of Neymar and Mbappe.

Bayern Munich have regained their top position in the Bundesliga, but they’ve already lost two league games this season and they’ve replaced their manager. Borussia Dortmund looked like genuine challengers in the opening weeks, but they’ve faltered and Leipzig have assumed the second spot they won last season. It is difficult to see who will knock Bayern off the top, the likelihood is that they will regain their title in 2017-18.

And it already looking like Barcelona are determined to reclaim the crown from Real Madrid in 2017-18. At present, they are unbeaten along with Valencia and Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid, with Ronaldo no longer as prolific as he has been, have slipped this season – 25 goals in 13 games is relatively low by their standards and nine goals worse than leaders Barca.

Juventus have a fight on their hands this season and like Bayern, they’ve lost twice. Napoli have been impressive in Serie A and their points haul is over 90%. Juve’s team might just be unseated this season, but whoever wins, it does look like a more interesting Serie A than it has been for some time. Juve have competition.

While points totals have risen in recent seasons, one of the things that has gone down is the number of defeats by prospective champions. In this era of steamrollers, teams with their eye on the title cannot afford to lose too many games. In 1967-68, Manchester City lost 10 games on their way to winning the championship, but in the last 14 seasons, the average for champions in England is a little over four per campaign. People are talking about Manchester City going through the season unbeaten – one thing is sure, they won’t lose many if they are unable to keep the “L” column blank.

The predictability across the leagues does not seem to have affected spectator appetite, however. In England, attendances are up 6.6%, no doubt helped by the return of Newcastle United to the Premier. Gates in Italy are up 10%, thanks to revived interest in Inter, Milan and Napoli. In Germany, attendances have risen by some 8% and the all-star line-up at PSG is helping French crowds to rise by 5%. Of the big five leagues, only Spain are showing a decline – around 1.5%.

As we’ve said before at GOTP, the domination of Europe by a handful of clubs reflects the distribution of wealth in football. Over the past two years, it has become increasingly obvious that these clubs are cemented in place as Europe’s elite. And they seem to be getting stronger by the year. Obviously, for the fans of these clubs, success is lapped up, but overpowering domination is not necessarily good for the domestic game in each of these countries. True, it helps to raise standards, but as we can see at PSG, financial clout and an all-star squad can create a football league that could be over by Christmas.

 

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