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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 14 July, 2020

Last night was a prime example of why the Premier League is becoming harder to watch

Liverpool outclassed Norwich in the season’s opening fixture.

Liverpool were far too good for Norwich on Friday.
Liverpool were far too good for Norwich on Friday.
Image: AP/PA Images

AT THE BEGINNING of Sky’s broadcast of the opening game of the season on Friday night, Gary Neville suggested that the Premier League for the first time in around a decade was the best domestic competition in the world.

It is difficult to dispute the former Manchester United man’s claim. In an unprecedented feat last season, both the finalists for the Europa League and the Champions League came from the same country — England.

For many years, the Premier League was clearly not the best out there, and in that era, people trying to sell the English game often seemingly compensated for this supposed issue by describing it as the ‘most entertaining league in the world’.

The competition was championed on account of the feeling that ‘anyone could beat anyone’ and there were ‘no easy games’. But at this juncture, such claims would seem laughable.

Increasingly, the Premier League is emulating the La Liga model, where the financial gap between the few elite sides and the rest is growing, and entertainment levels are simultaneously dwindling.

Not so long ago, English football fans would ridicule their Spanish counterparts, highlighting how Barcelona would routinely put five or six goals past starkly inferior opposition teams. Yet Man City are now essentially to British football what the Catalan giants are to La Liga, or indeed PSG to France — a side who are genuinely tested by their rivals on only a handful of occasions over the course of the season.

Similarly, Liverpool are so superior to the vast majority of English teams.

Last season’s title race was billed as the most exciting in years, but during the run-in, how many Man City games actually stand out in the memory?

Granted, there was a tense and a suitably thrilling conclusion to the 1-0 Vincent Kompany-inspired victory in their penultimate match with Leicester, but that occasion was an anomaly.

Pep Guardiola’s men lost just one out of 18 league matches in 2019. 11 of those fixtures were won by more than one goal. Of those 17 wins, City were leading at half-time in all bar six. Moreover, there were only two occasions (against Liverpool and Leicester) where they went into the final 20 minutes of a game needing to score a winner, and in all of the matches in question, they held a lead that they did not surrender by the 75th minute.

Liverpool were not quite so dominant by comparison — the four draws and one loss they suffered in 2019 (their only defeat of the season, inflicted by City) ultimately cost them the title. But they still managed the fairly remarkable feat of winning 13 league games after the turn of the year, ending the season with nine successive victories, while balancing it with a triumphant Champions League campaign.

On Friday, they picked up where they left off. The Reds earned a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Norwich, a result no one would have been surprised by.

Liverpool fans will have enjoyed watching it, while Canaries followers would have struggled to do so. For neutrals, meanwhile, many viewers would have been tempted to change channels after 28 minutes, when Liverpool effectively put the victory beyond all doubt by going 3-0 up. Those who did tune out, in truth, did not miss much. Sky did their best to accentuate the positives, pointing to how Norwich had ‘won the second half’. Nevertheless, the game essentially became a glorified friendly after the break, with Liverpool switching to auto-pilot mode, and so any suggestion that the visitors’ display in the second period was worthy of admiration should be taken with a pinch of salt.

In one sense, therefore, it is a unique situation. There is a strong case to be made that both Man City and Liverpool are two of the greatest sides to ever grace the Premier League. The 97 points Jurgen Klopp’s side acquired last season was 18 more than the 1999 treble-winning Man United team managed.

Yet there is a feeling of hollowness to it all at times. There is the caveat that it is only the opening game of the season, and too much should not be read into a standalone match. But the sheer lack of tension and excitement in last night’s clash at Anfield was indicative of a growing problem in the game and more ammunition for those who believe the creation of a European Super League, or a markedly extended version of the Champions League, is the only way out of this current mess.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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