The Premier League has always forcefully marketed itself as the “Best League in the World”. And while football fans now widely consider that title to be untrue or maybe even jingoistic bluster, the crown of “Most Competitive League in the World” seems to have found its resting place on the EPL’s enormous bloated bonce.
And before you get your knickers in a twist about the ferocity of The Championship or the level playing field that is Estonia’s 3rd division, I’m talking about Europe’s major leagues here – the big four of England, Spain, Germany and Italy to be precise.
The title of “Most Competitive League” and what it means got me thinking. How do you calculate, quantify and award such a verdict? Other than the anecdotal “no easy games in the Premiership” type of stuff, what sort of evidence should we be looking for?
Football fans from the British Isles of course watch an awful lot of Premier League football and know a good deal about each team therein, while their knowledge of the other major leagues generally doesn’t extend much further than the Barcas, Reals, Bayerns and Juves. Only the nerdiest of nerds gets wet at the crotch for Eibar vs Real Vallecano.
And so we watch Messi, Ronaldo, Robben and co humiliate their opposition most weeks with dismissive gestures and contemptuous guffaws. “This league is piss”.
Barcelona and Real Madrid do tend to have it their own way in Spain, as do Bayern and Juventus in Germany and Italy respectively. But is it fair to dismiss the overall competitiveness of a league based on the performances of the top teams? Maybe it is…so let’s have a look at how each of the league’s top 4 teams fared last season:
In the Premier League, the top four teams lost 25 games between them, dropping points (ie draws and defeats) in 60 games in total. Their Spanish counterparts lost 21 games, dropping points in 47 games in total. In Germany the figures were 23 defeats and 55 games where the top 4 dropped points, while in Italy the most successful quintet lost 30 games between them, dropping points in 68 total. So it’s 1-0 to Serie A so far. Their best teams tend to have the toughest times against their rivals, followed by the Premier League.
In terms of goal-scoring the figures look like this for the top 4 from each league collectively:
Premier League 289 scored 143 conceded
La Liga 365 scored 117 conceded
Bundesliga 267 scored 119 conceded
Serie A 258 scored 139 conceded
Once again, the figures point to Serie A generally having the tightest competition. Unsurprisingly, La Liga’s top 4 racked up the most goals, thanks to the two freakish space alien anomalies we all know so well.
So what about the spread of points from top to bottom in each league? Wouldn’t that be a decent indicator of a competitive league? Why am I asking myself questions? These statty pieces tend to do that don’t they? Cut me some slack, I’m a fish out of water here.
Anyway, here are the figures for point spreads from top to bottom for each league:
Premier League 57 points
La Liga 74 points
Bundesliga 48 points (although they play 4 games less, so conceivably could have been 60?)
Seria A 68 gold stars (nah, that’s not true, it’s also points)
The Premier League and Bundesliga have firmly beaten their rivals here, with the German top flight looking particularly fest (which Google translate tells me means “tight” in English).
That’s all well and good, but aren’t figures like that unfair and distorted if there is a runaway winner in a particular division? That could be a decent argument, given that Barcelona and Real Madrid (separated by 2 points at the top) finished 14 points ahead of 3rd placed Valencia and Juventus 17 points clear of Roma in Italy. But Bayern also finished a healthy 10 points ahead of their nearest rivals too, which kind of confirms the overall fest-ness of the Bundesliga.
If we were to look at the spread of points from a different angle, say the difference between 4th and the relegation places, we see these figures:
Premier League 35 points
La Liga 42 points
Bundesliga 26 points
Serie A 30 points
The Bundesliga is still looking all kinds of fest, no matter how you look at it. La Liga once again comes across as the least competitive from a statistical point of view.
I realize that a handful of figures cobbled together into loosely cohesive data is not a set in stone conclusion. But it does lead us to a denouement of sorts, or at the very least it provides the basis for an argument down the pub. It looks as though the Premier League cannot lay claim to being the leader in quality or competitiveness right now, although that will cause them little concern as long as their marketers remain top of their game.