Should the Premier League consider a playoff system?


The Premier League and football in Europe as a whole is in danger of becoming all-too predictable. The same teams are dominating their respective divisions whether it be Manchester City, who are closing in on their fourth Premier League crown in six years, or Bayern Munich and their charge to a 10th Bundesliga title on the bounce. For a game that has roots in a socialist background, football has become a capitalist structure where the leading outfits are only getting stronger.

Even in the case of teams like Manchester United, their struggle is being unable to finish in the top four of the Premier League. The Red Devils have not been punished by their financial mistakes in the transfer market such is the strength of their brand across the globe whereas other sides that flew a bit too close to the sun have been punished such as Leicester City and Southampton, who were plucked apart by the top sides after success or a modicum of success in terms of the Saints.

Sports in the US provide a fair share of balance, with a remarkable recent example of this being the Cincinnati Bengals, who were elevated from the worst team in the league to Super Bowl contenders in two years. The Bengals are backed as +4.5 underdogs in the Super Bowl betting with odds of 13/8 to win the 56th iteration of the event, and although they would have preferred favourite status, it highlights how far the team had come in two seasons. The draft system gives NFL teams a chance, although the playoff system provides equal balance, giving emphasis to the phrase any given Sunday. No matter how talented your team might be, there is always the off chance that they are not the best side on the day.

This system is common in other sports around the world. The NRL adopts a system where the team that tops the regular season table wins the Minor Premiers, but not the NRL championship, which is decided in the post-season via a playoff series. The top side in the NRL does usually compete for the crown into the latter stages of the playoffs, but more often than not loses out such as the Melbourne Storm did in the 2021 campaign as the Penrith Panthers claimed the NRL Premiership. The NFL is also a great equaliser in the playoffs, with the example of the 2007 season when the New York Giants sneaked into the post-season with a 10-6 record but found their peak form at the right time and managed to defeat the unbeaten New England Patriots.

It raises the possibility of whether a playoff system should be deployed in the Premier League to settle the top-flight crown. In an element of fairness the league could be split into groups of four, with the title being played out amongst the top four, an additional Champions League spot in the second tier, a Europa League place in the next group, an extra portion of cash in the fourth and Premier League survival in the final group. As a result, every cluster of sides would have something to play for in the latter stages of the season. There would be benefits to the teams that finish higher in the table or in their cluster of teams before the start of the post-season such as home advantage for the team that finished top of the pile.

Given that Manchester City are walking away with another Premier League title and the top four along with the bottom four sides battling to remain in the division seem to be settled already, drastic action needs to be taken to at least improve matters in the English top flight. It could set a trend to be adopted across the rest of Europe if it proved to be successful. Whether Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp along with their sides would be agreeable is another matter. However, for the good of the game, it is an idea that could and should be broached.