The Premier League. Manchester United apparently cruising to a 20th league title. Big spenders City keep on their tail. The chasing pack is made up of Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal. Liverpool continue to show the ever-increasing void between themselves and a league winners medal. Sound familiar?
For all the money, foreign talent and world-class managers now in the Premier League, the final outcome has never been more predictable. A betting man could probably predict five of the top six teams before a ball has even been kicked.
This is a trend that seems to occur frequently around Europe’s top divisions. The last time a team won La Liga, that wasn’t Barcelona or Real Madrid, was nearly 10 years ago.
Serie A tells a similar story. Since Roma won the title in 2001, it has been one of the big three – AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus – that has taken the glory. This included Inter winning five years running from 2006 to 2010.
In Ligue 1, Lyon were champions six years running between 2002 and 2008 and the Bundesliga is frequently dominated by Bayern Munich and their host of world-class footballers.
Yet just below the lofty heights and astronomical amounts of money from the Premier League, sits the most unpredictable and fiercely competitive league you are likely to find in the whole of Europe. The Championship.
Never has a league been more open, when the league leaders can be unceremoniously dumped to home defeat by a side 23 places below them – as Cardiff found out back in December.
It would be a brave football fan who would put any certainty on any result in the Championship.
A side promoted to the Premier League are always tipped to go straight back down, or at least finish in the bottom half. They are certainly never battling it out for the title.
Yet this is exactly what both Norwich and Southampton have done in recent years. Following promotion from League One, both of these sides took on the supposedly established Championship teams and won – gaining promotion at the first time of asking and completing back-to-back league jumps.
Several Premier League stalwarts have found life less than easy when relegated to the unpredictable Championship. Bolton Wanderers had been in the Premier League for 11 seasons, before their relegation last year and as a result, were one of the favourites to bounce straight back up.
However, now over halfway into the season and Bolton sit in 16th position, with only three wins from their last 10 matches.
Leeds had the same problem following their relegation from the top flight in 2004. In fact the Whites struggled so badly in the Championship (or Division 1 as it was then known) that they were relegated again in 2007.
No team stands on ceremony in the Championship. The cliche “if you’re good enough to be there” has never rung truer. A club’s history, fan-base and previous achievements mean nothing in this division. It is simply about battling and any team can win on its day.
The top divisions should take note.