It may seem like the best ever teams in Premier League history are pretty obvious – and the top few places certainly are. The Premier League has been with us since 1992 and few would argue with the top spot being awarded to Manchester United – whether they love them or hate them!
Similarly, Arsenal would – unequivocally – take the runner-up position, with Chelsea firmly in their place and Liverpool fourth.
Again – few would argue with these top placings no matter what criteria you would use. But what criteria would you choose? Because it isn’t simply about a points tally. If this was a simple quantitative exercise, the life would be easy and the placings would by definitive – and of course, such leagues do exist and the top four positions are exactly as outlined here.
But in reality; life is more complex than that. On a simple points tally, for example, Blackburn Rovers (Premiership winners back in 1995) would be in eight position. But few would argue that that is the Rovers’ natural place in the overall order of things. The position is simply down to the fact that Blackburn burned very brightly for a few years thanks to “Uncle” Jack Walker’s mega millions. Of course, the same is true today at both Stamford Bridge and the Etihad.
So tempering the simple quantitative analysis with a little qualitative judgement using your knowledge can be useful (though admittedly subjective) in deciding who is the best of all time. This can be particularly useful if you enjoy betting on Premier League outcomes. That’s because clubs tend, on the whole, to revert to mean. History is likely to tell us that both Manchester City and Chelsea are currently punching above their place in the overall natural order of things in English football thanks to their wealthy owners. History will probably judge this as a medium term statistical “aberration” but we can never be sure, obviously.
The flipside is probably true at Old Trafford. If history is anything to go by (and it almost always is) then Manchester United’s current position is anomalously bad and the City fans’ hopes of replacing United as the “big dog on the block” may prove to be forlorn given sufficient time.
What is interesting, though, is that by any measure you care to use, the top four clubs are as listed above, followed by Spurs, Newcastle, Everton and Man City (though the exact order of these later four is debatable) and these clubs currently fill the Premier League’s top eight positions.
So the overall “reversion to mean” is exemplified by the teams’ current standings in a way it very seldom has been before.
Quite what we’ll be saying in another two decades’ time, though, is another matter and looking at long-term statistical trends and aberrations is the fun part. Is there a side much further down the rankings and not traditionally a big club waiting to upset the natural order of things in the way Blackburn Rovers did 20 years ago? Let’s hope so!