IAN LADYMAN: 18 teams in the Premier League makes sense

IAN LADYMAN: In the Big Picture, 18 teams in the Premier League makes sense… and England boss Gareth Southgate’s attitude towards Jack Grealish is puzzling

  • A Premier League with 18 teams in it is not the worst idea in the world 
  • The likes of Norwich and Huddersfield struggled to make an impact in top flight 
  • Other teams such as Fulham and Aston Villa haven’t spent money wisely
  • England boss Gareth Southgate’s treatment of Jack Grealish is rather puzzling

Remember the days when you needed 40 points to stay in the Premier League? No, I don’t either.

People still say it, though. Managers and players still talk about reaching that magical staging post that assures them of another season in the land where the money grows.

But it’s a myth. Nobody needs 40 points any more. Only once in the last 17 seasons — back in 2011 — has the team finishing fourth bottom required that number. The average is actually 35 points these days and often it’s even less. 

Reducing the Premier League to 18 teams would be good – Norwich didn’t contribute much

So of all the self-serving drivel proposed by Liverpool and Manchester United as part of their vainglorious Project Big Picture, reducing the Premier League to 18 teams was not the worst idea. Standards in the bottom half of the table have been falling for years.

What did Norwich do for us last season? Or Huddersfield the year before? Those two clubs managed 37 points and eight wins between them. Thanks for coming but just one question: Why did you bother?

Part of the reason for the slide is money spent badly.

That, for example, is the reason why Fulham went down two seasons ago and why Aston Villa almost did so last year. Wasting money in the transfer market is not only the preserve of the big clubs, which is baffling given how many resources are now funnelled towards recruitment.

But another, more pertinent, reason is a pure lack of ambition. One of the most memorable quotes from a Premier League executive when the league’s clubs were squabbling over how best to finish last season’s fixtures was: ‘Always remember that 14 clubs start every season with the same single motivation. To stay in the league.’  

Huddersfield also struggled in the Premier League and suffered relegation in 2019

So rich is the Premier League, so huge the financial gap between the top division and the Championship, that far too many of our clubs set out looking down rather than up. Too few have the courage of Wolves and Sheffield United, for example.

So what you end up with are a bunch of teams who only really try to take points off those around them. Tony Pulis was a master at it when he was at West Brom, for example.

Self-preservation is understandable. Relegation is financially damaging. But in terms of the quality of what we see, the impact is clear.

Last season Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder was surprised to find the Premier League so accommodating. He didn’t expect his team to go down but he didn’t expect them to challenge for the Champions League places, as they briefly did. 

Wilder, a right back in his day, was shocked at how few Premier League teams were prepared to defend properly, how few players really wanted to do the painful, hard stuff. 

Last season Chris Wilder was surprised to find the Premier League so accommodating

There is a malaise in the Premier League. No doubt about it. There is a bunch of clubs — and we know who they are — who are not prepared to aim high in case in doing so they leave themselves vulnerable to those playing the safety-first stuff beneath them.

To them, 14th or 15th or 16th is good enough. Every year.

Project Big Picture was a selfish act. Rarely has an idea been so disingenuously named. But not all of it was potentially ruinous.

A Premier League with two fewer teams and a bit of breathing space for over-exerted players? Doesn’t sound like the worst idea to me.

Gareth Southgate’s treatment of Jack Grealish is strange 

Gareth Southgate’s attitude towards Jack Grealish is puzzling. If a star performance in game one of a triple header doesn’t get you a single minute of action in the next two then you may wonder why you are bothering.

But this is the trap Grealish must not fall into. Southgate has reservations about him and — deliberately or otherwise — has just set the Aston Villa player a test.

A month of good form and Grealish will be in the next squad. Any signs of self-pity or ill-discipline and we may never see him in an England shirt again.

England manager Gareth Southgate’s treatment of Jack Grealish is rather puzzling

Now I worry for Pickford’s state of mind 

Sometimes in this game you don’t really want to be proved right but long held reservations expressed on this page about Jordan Pickford have transpired to be well-founded.

Pickford’s emotional extremes — rather than any technical issues — are his greatest problem and this is why it’s hard not to worry about him.

The Everton goalkeeper did not mean to injure Virgil van Dijk but news the Dutchman faces surgery places Pickford in the line of fire for every social media troll in the land.

We should all be concerned for Van Dijk. But in the weeks to come Pickford is going to need some looking after, too.

It’s hard not to worry about Jordan Pickford given the goalkeeper’s emotional extremes

Let’s blame the rules, not VAR 

Another dismal day for football at Goodison Park and another raft of headlines about VAR.

So we will say this one more time for those who don’t get it.

It’s not VAR that’s the problem. It’s the rules. 

It was another dismal day for football but it is the rules that are the problem rather than VAR

A tale of two England bosses 

Kevin Davies provided insight in these pages recently about two managers he worked for.

Fabio Capello, the former centre forward said, never spoke a word to him after selecting him for England up until the minute he sent him on as a sub.

Sam Allardyce, meanwhile, was shown to be ahead of his time with some of his training, rehab and psychological techniques at Bolton two decades ago.

Further proof that one of these men should never have been given the England job and the other had it taken away from him prematurely.

Kevin Davies revealed that Sam Allardyce was ahead of his time with his methods at Bolton




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