Each season in the Premier League, you see varying levels of competitiveness. And that could be evaluated in different ways. For the sake of this post, we will evaluate goals scored and conceded to see how competitive teams are and how they rank. Note: points are how teams are ranked in the league, so that is how we will also determine success.

Starting with the 2017/2018 season, you’ll see that by the seventh team, Burnley, goals conceded are already higher than goals scored. Therefore, 13 teams gave up more goals than they scored. Man City’s goals outpace everyone. All the blue for Man City’s goals scored turned orange for the rest of the league. This causes a massive imbalance. Man City nearly doubled the points of the 7th ranked team, Burnley: 100 to 54. After Burnley, Man City doubled the points of every team from 8-20th, and in the case of the three teams at the bottom, Man City tripled their points. The only competition comes for 2nd through 5th places. Two win differences or a few more draws for any of those teams means they would have moved up a position. Their points looked like this from 2nd to 5th: 81, 77, 75, 70. After that, the teams were competitive, but that is for being in the league’s bottom half.

Was the 2017/2018 season an anomaly? 

Let us have a look at 2018/2019. The answer is not really. Same team on top, a different team at the seventh spot where goals conceded outrank their goals scored. The difference this time is that we see that seven teams gave up more than 60 goals! That means 11 teams had a negative goal difference. Yikes! The most significant difference is that Man City and Liverpool combined for 98 and 97 points, respectively. That is more points than the bottom six teams combined. That doesn’t seem very competitive. Man City and Liverpool had 184 goals, while the bottom five teams had 170 goals. Therefore, it took about 5.5 teams to equal Man City’s goal total. 

How about the 2019/2020 season? It takes until the ninth team, Sheffield United, to get to even for goals scored and conceded. The most surprising, if you look at the graphic, is that Man City comes in tops in goals scored by 17 but still arrived in second in total points. That’s a story for another time, but what we see here is a bit more competitive throughout the middle teams. But it still doesn’t feel like it is that competitive other than those competing for 3rd through 8th place and all the rest—three different levels of play.

Maybe the 2020/2021 season? The top nine teams scored more goals than conceded, but then you see the interesting case of Everton. Everton conceded more goals than they scored; however, they still had more points for the year and ranked 10th. Followed by a team, Aston Villa, who scored more goals than conceded but fell behind Everton in points. Everton had 59 points to Aston Villa’s 55. It came down to one extra win, two fewer losses, and one less draw. That turns into four critical points.  But the top 11 teams are competitive. The points during that season were not so far off. Look at the bunching below the graphic. One win equals three points. You can see there are is a lot of cases where a win would have changed the order. That seems competitive. However, Man City won six more games than the next-best team. That isn’t very competitive.

Manchester City8627561
Manchester Utd74211162
Leicester City66206125
West Ham65198116
Leeds United59185159
Aston Villa551671511
Newcastle Utd451291712
Crystal Palace441281814
West Brom265112219
Sheffield Utd23722920

Surely the 2021/2022 season is competitive. Or maybe not. The U shape of this makes it look less competitive, and it is after the top two teams. Like patterns, only seven teams had more goals than conceded. However, Man United had even scores to concede and were in sixth place. The goals scored are the inverse of the goals conceded groups at the bottom. Other than Newcastle United giving up 62 goals to only 44 scored, it is impressive. From Leicester City down to Burnley, the points are so tight, often by one point as the difference from one place higher in their positioning. The points look like this from 8th to 18th place: 52, 51, 51, 49, 48, 46, 45, 40, 39, 38, 35. One win could have meant a team jumping up to four places. That is competitive, but only for the 8-18th positions, not the top four. Man City and Liverpool sit at the top with 93 and 92 points, respectively. It wasn’t a close race. In third place, Chelsea had 74 points. As good as 74 seems, it’s far from 2nd to 3rd in points. 

Unless your team was named Man City or Arsenal, the 2022/2023 season was not competitive. Two teams took the lead by a wide margin, and then there was a wave of close results from third to eighth place. After that, the race to the bottom was a tight one. If you consider staying in the Premier League a way to rank how competitive a league is, then perhaps it was. But we’ll stick with winning as the level of competition, and this one was a two-team race to the end.

Would I say the Premier League is competitive? It’s not competitive if winning a championship is the ultimate goal, and it is the goal of every team in the league. You could write an entire chapter for each season in the Premier League and the fantastic levels of data. But the end of each chapter would tell us that we are lucky if two teams are close at the end of the season. In reality, most teams are fighting for positions 3 – 20 and the tail end of the teams, hoping they don’t get relegated.
The top two teams generally outclass those behind them by a wide margin. The one season I will dive deeper into soon is the 2020/2021, where the teams from 2nd to 11th place had many opportunities to pass those in front of them. 

The Premier League is often a battle for 1st and 2nd. Then we have the 3rd to 8th places as one block of competitiveness, and then the rest is for the bottom ten spots until you get right at the bottom teams trying to avoid relegation. It’s only competitive, depending on where you fall in these bins. 

Last Update: January 20, 2024

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