When the rewards for joining the top division in the country are so high, it’s no surprise that the competition is always fierce and this season more than ever. The play off final for the last promotion place into the Premiership is supposedly worth £60 million to the winning club. Any gap between divisions is usually hard to breach, but there’s evidence to suggest the top flight and the second tier are narrowing.
Testament to the closing gap is how well the promoted teams have done in the Premiership. The assumption still exists that most promoted teams will falter and be relegated again in successive seasons. However, Swansea’s particular style of football has left teams like Arsenal reeling from their defeats, having been passed off of the park in a Barcelona-esque fashion in addition to the impressive win against Man City. Norwich manager Paul Lambert has shown his tactical prowess when needed, adapting his team’s game plan for different opponents and even altering formations mid-game with much success. Players like Swansea’s Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham have looked at home in the top league, as have Norwich’s Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan.
All of this goes without mention of how well some teams are performing in the English second tier. The race for the top spot between Southampton and West Ham looks set to go on until the final day of the season and teams in the play-off places are only a few points apart. The sort of players that are willing to stay within the league like Rickie Lambert or even drop down from the top flight such as Kevin Nolan highlights how a potential promotion can sway some high profile transfers for the Championship sides. Signs of quality were there in the League Cup when Crystal Palace and Cardiff made up two of the semi-finalists and the Welsh side made it to Wembley, holding their own against Liverpool until the penalty shoot-out.
Of course recently it’s been hard not to notice a dip in quality for some sides in the Premiership. The bottom 5 sides are stuck in a relegation battle with each other whilst seemingly cut adrift from the rest of the league, with sides such as Blackburn, Wolves and Wigan in the relegation zone for the second successive season. It’s not even a problem limited to the bottom of the table, with sides in European contention this year having been shown up by their opposition in the Champions League as both Manchester sides and Arsenal having been outclassed away from home.
Compared to other leagues, the step up still isn’t as dramatic, but the Premiership is the only English league to be broadcasted worldwide and the rewards will always be greater. There’s hope yet that the gap will close and the stigma will stop with promoted teams. Whether second season syndrome will affect Norwich or Swansea next season remains to be seen, but the signs of quality are there to hold their own in the top flight.