Premier League: Why it is difficult for defending champs to retain their title

With the new Premier League season now under way, teams are vying between one another in an attempt to get their hands on the crown come May.

For Chelsea, their situation differs as they bid to retain the title they won last season.

However, a disruptive pre-season and a shock home defeat to Burnley on the opening day has already cast doubts whether Chelsea are capable of retaining the title.

Although the season is only one game in, a trend is occurring over the last few seasons to suggest it is becoming more difficult to retain the title.

The last team who successfully defended their crown was Manchester United, who won three in a row between 2007-2009. The question here is the Premier League title becoming harder to retain?


Loss of momentum

One obstacle that seems to occur for every defending champion is the lack of drive and hunger from players to go on and replicate the standards they produce the season before.

As mentioned above, no team since Manchester United have gone on to defend their title. Over the last few season, the champions seem to lose momentum in games that they should expect to win.

Chelsea in  the 14-15 season is one example. Jose Mourinho’s men were struggling to find any motivation and consistency throughout the first half of the season, which led to the sacking of Portuguese and the club finishing tenth, the lowest position under the Abramovich era.

Although one can argue they were issues behind the scenes, the lack of desire was seen on the pitch, with players such as Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas failing to match the high standards that won them the title.

Leicester City is another example. Though the players were not as talented as previous winning teams and were fighting against the drop the season prior, individual form from key members like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy deteriorated.

This led to Leicester flirting with relegation for the majority of the season rather than challenging. Although these are just two recent examples, it does imply that players may feel that they do not need to play at their full potential due to the stature of being champions.


Less spending from the champions

When a team wins the title, the clubs board of directors or owner feel reluctant to depart with large sums of cash.

This is due to the success achieved from the players within the team and the board and owner feel they do not need to strengthen. Although money is spend, it is usually on squad players to add more depth to the team.

Manchester City title defence under Roberto Mancini is one example.

After winning the league, Man City spending was reduced with the club bringing the likes of Scott Sinclair, Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia. City’s defence faltered that year as the new signings failed to deliver, with Mancini getting sacked before the season was concluded.

Manchester United’s title defence in 14/15 is another example. Although the failed defence was due to the change of manager (David Moyes replacing Sir Alex Ferguson) the lack of spending also contributed to their downfall.

Marouane Fellaini was their only summer signing from United and it was seen that the club needed more reinforcements. Although Juan Mata arrived in January, the damage was done, with United finishing seventh at the end of the season.

Jose Mourinho’s and Chelsea had similar traits in the 15/16 season. The club failed to get any priority signing with Baba Rahman and Radamel Falcao arriving. Both players failed to adapt and were on the fringes, which did not aid Chelsea’s calamitous title defence.

These examples above suggest the lack of spending on quality players affects a defending champions chances of retaining the Premier League.


Adopting the champions style of play

In order to defeat a champion, one must think and play like one. This ideology was seen over the last few seasons.

When a club becomes a champion, they do so with a particular style or formation. When the new season begins, title rivals would either set up to counteract the champions style of play and force them to make mistakes.

Leicester’s style of play was outed during their title defence. Leicester played with a counter attack position where they force teams to have the possession. When the new season began, Leicester struggled as teams adapted to their style of play.

Chelsea tactical layout under Antonio Conte is another example. Chelsea adapted to a 3-5-2 formation, which resulted them on winning the title that season. However towards the end of the season and the beginning of the new one, teams adopted the new formation to combat Chelsea’s.

Although this occurred throughout Chelsea’s title winning season, it does suggest that Chelsea struggled to beat teams while they play a similar formation. (Arsenal in the FA cup and Community Shield).

This suggest adopting the champions style of play will compose an easier task to beat them.


Competitiveness and Financial Power from other clubs

With financial power becoming more a influencing factor over the last decade (Leicester’s success the exception), one can argue it affects the defending champions chance of retaining their crown as more teams are beginning spending heavy in order to succeed.

Clubs who failed to deliver the title to their own supporters tend to splash the cash on proven players to enhance the chance of winning the league.

This season alone has seen various clubs shattering their transfer record to bring in players to enhance their squad.

Manchester City and Manchester United are core examples as both clubs have spent large amount of money on players (City over £200 million and United around £150 million). With large spending coming from the Manchester clubs, Chelsea’s chances of retaining the Premier League title have become more difficult.

With large spending from clubs, the competitiveness increases. When the Premier League began, only a few clubs could spend large sums on players, which in return formed a gap between the clubs who could not match their spending.

However, with money generated through advertisement, TV revenue and rich owners, smaller clubs are able to spend big on players. This in return, bridges the gap between the clubs at the top to the ones at the bottom. Clubs like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have had issues with clubs flirting with relegation in recent years.

This indicates that the Premier League is more competitive than it was once.



From the analysis above, one can see that the rise of spending from rivals, possible lack of player motivation and adopting the style of play from the league winners affects the champions outcome on retaining their crown.

With clubs pushed to spend money to achieve the stature of champions, it is difficult for the defending champion to replicate the success of the season before.

It will be interesting whether Chelsea can break the duck and become the first team to retain the title since Manchester United.


Written by James Reidy

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