Football: Small EPL clubs revel in topsy-turvy season

Financial breakthroughs from TV deals give them impetus to take on EPL's Big Four clubs

Premier League leaders Leicester City's Jamie Vardy with Riyad Mahrez (top). The low-priced duo have scored 25 per cent more goals this season than big-budget Manchester United.
Premier League leaders Leicester City's Jamie Vardy with Riyad Mahrez (top). The low-priced duo have scored 25 per cent more goals this season than big-budget Manchester United. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

One by one, the old certainties are being destroyed.

Tipped for relegation, Leicester top the table.

Seemingly on course for the drop as well, Bournemouth beat Chelsea and Manchester United in successive weeks.

Apparently awful, Newcastle defeated Juergen Klopp's in-form Liverpool and a Tottenham team on the Premier League's longest unbeaten run.

As the supposed superpowers stumble on a regular basis, Manuel Pellegrini and Arsene Wenger believe 80 points will be enough to win the division. No one has done so with fewer this millennium. The bar has been lowered partly because standards have been raised across the board.

Part of the Premier League's appeal has always lain in its competitiveness and the quality its mid-table members have possessed.

Now that has increased, along with their purchasing power.

The current television deal is worth £3 billion (S$6.33 million) in domestic rights alone. The next, which begins in the summer, should be worth around £8 billion in worldwide rights.

  • 80

  • Number of points Manuel Pellegrini and Arsene Wenger believe would be enough to win the Premier League this season

  • 26-21

    How the £1.4 million (S$2.9 million) Leicester pair, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, have outscored Manchester United so far

Lesser lights now find themselves well funded. They can afford to buy. They can afford not to sell.

With the promise of a windfall next season, Everton spurned Chelsea's offers for John Stones. West Bromwich Albion turned down Tottenham's bid for Saido Berahino. It would take extortionate sums for them to go.

The summer was also notable for St Etienne co-president Bernard Caiazzo complaining the Premier League was becoming "the NBA of football."

Raids on Ligue One became commonplace, and not just from the elite. West Ham lured Dimitri Payet - the catalyst in wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and City - from Marseille, a far bigger club. Andre Ayew swapped Marseille for Swansea. Yohan Cabaye left Paris Saint-Germain for Crystal Palace.

Most mid-ranking teams acquired more incision and more invention. Newcastle could spend £13 million on Aleksandar Mitrovic and put him on the bench on Sunday. He came on to score one goal and help create another against Tottenham. Their relegation-threatened counterparts elsewhere have no such luxury.

Yet examine the great overachievers and the new specialist in shocks and money is scarcely a factor. Leicester beat Chelsea with a starting XI that cost considerably less than Diego Costa. Jamie Vardy, purchased for £1 million, and Riyad Mahrez, bought for £400,000, are in a private battle to be crowned Footballer of the Year.

Bournemouth's expensive signings, Max Gradel and Tyrone Mings, are injured. The starting XI they fielded against Chelsea and United cost just £1.7 million. Anthony Martial could cost 34 times as much on his own.

This is where the super-rich have no grounds for complaint. Louis van Gaal has repeatedly argued that the Premier League is the toughest because all clubs have the finances to realistically compete.

Yet he has spent £285 million and United lost to a £1.7 million team. The £1.4 million duo of Vardy and Mahrez have scored 25 per cent more goals than United.

The Red Devils are underachieving. Chelsea are doing so disastrously. Arsenal and Manchester City are faring better but remain prone to the occasional shock. Collectively the new "Big Four" still possess the resources and the personnel to be doing better. If they are being dragged back by the pack, it is partly due to their shortcomings.

Their traditional answer would be to buy the upstarts' star players. That is altogether harder now. Leicester are refusing to cash in on Vardy and Mahrez. Southampton need not sell Sadio Mane, or Everton Stones, Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley.

So the answers either lie abroad, given they found it easier to sign Pedro, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Martial than Premier League players, or within, because the failings of the supposed best have prompted the rise of the rest.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'SMALL CLUBS REVEL IN TOPSY-TURVY SEASON'. Subscribe