The self-proclaimed “Best League in the World” returned to stands and screens at the weekend as the new 2018/19 English Premiership season got under way. Once again this year, the marketers have told us to expect the unexpected, with the unpredictability of the competition perennially championed as one of its biggest selling points.
Acceptedly, the Premier League is generally an exciting watch most of the time (unless you’re watching Man Utd of course), but how does the league’s and supporters’ “most competitive” claim stand-up to statistical scrutiny?
Let’s dive into the numbers to try to establish which of Europe’s 5 major leagues (Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1) is the most competitive division overall.
Number of different champions in last 10 seasons
Let’s start with the basics. Above, we’ve listed the number of different champions from each of the 5 leagues over the past 10 seasons. From 2008/09 to last season, Ligue 1 has had the most variety in terms of title winning teams.
The French crown was swapping between clubs from season to season until a financially bloated PSG emerged to win 5 of the last 6 league titles since 2013.
The English Premier League has had 4 different winners in the last decade, though the league is unique in that no club has been able to defend their title successfully since Manchester United won 3 in a row between 2006/07 and 2008/09.
In Serie A, 3 different winners in 10 years is nothing to write home about, especially when you consider that Juventus have won the last 7 on the spin. The story in Germany is similar with Bayern Munich having lifted 6 Bundesliga titles on the trot.
Unsurprisingly, La Liga has largely been dominated by Barcelona, who have won 7 out of 10 league titles since 2008/09.
Even though Ligue 1 has had the highest number of different winners in the last ten years, PSG’s recent monopolisation of the competition loses them points. With no successive champions inside the same time frame, the Premier League wins this one.
Winner: Premier League
Tough at the top
|Points spread from 1st to 4th (2017/18)|
Next, we’ll take a look at the spread of points between 1st of 4th place in each of the 5 leagues in the 2017/18 season. A narrow points margin between those positions would suggest a highly competitive edge near the top of the table.
It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that the Bundesliga’s 18 team competition means that their figures will be slightly skewed compared to the 20 team divisions of the other 4 leagues. Nevertheless, the information should still help to paint an overall picture of competitiveness.
Ligue 1 had the smallest difference in points between PSG in 1st and Marseille in 4th. There was however an enormous drop of 19 points between Marseille and Rennes just below them in 5th.
The Bundesliga ranked last, with a sizeable 29-point spread between champions Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in 4th.
Winner: Ligue 1
Points dropped by top 4 (2017/18)
|Games Lost||Games Drawn||Total|
In terms of points dropped by the top 4 in each league, the best quartet in the Bundesliga failed to win 61 games between them in their shorter 34-game season, placing the league out on its own as the most competitive in this metric.
La Liga runs the Bundesliga relatively close, but both Serie A and the Premier League are cut adrift at the foot of the statistical rankings. The top 4 teams in Italy lost just 19 matches between them in 2017/18, which is an incredibly low figure.
Number of games won by relegated teams (2017/18)
Let’s turn our attention to the opposite end of the tables for a minute, where the previous statistical rundown is turned almost completely on its head.
By establishing how many games the respective league’s relegated teams won between them in 2017/18, we should get a better idea about the level of quality that ran though the division from top to bottom.
Ligue 1 comes out on top here, with Toulouse, Troyes and Metz winning 24 matches between them during their unsuccessful relegation battles.
Deportivo La Coruna, Las Palmas and Malaga won just 16 games combined in La Liga in 2017/18 – comfortably the lowest total.
Winner: Ligue 1
Total Draws (2017/18)
|Draws||% of total matches|
A large number of draws during a particular league season could suggest that the teams in one division are more evenly matched than the teams in another.
The Bundesliga ranks top of the table for overall draw percentage, with 27.12% of German top flight matches in 2017/18 ending level. The Premier League gave them a good run for their money with 26.05% of their season’s fixtures finishing all square.
Serie A props up the rest with 21.84% of their matches drawn last term, though the difference between the 5 leagues analysed is relatively small.
Top 4 goals for and against (2017/18)
A large goal differential for the top 4 teams from a particular league could mean that the divisions best teams have a somewhat easy time against the rest of the competition. Lots of goals for the big boys might suggest that they are coming up against cannon fodder every other week.
The inverse of that, where the top teams score less and concede more would indicate that the overall strength of their competitors is high.
Again, the Bundesliga is clear at the top with the German top four’s combined goal difference coming to +115. Nobody comes close to matching that figure with Serie A’s top 4 posting the next lowest goal difference of +179.
The Premier League’s top 4 was the only quartet to smash through the combined +200 goal barrier, finishing with a positive goal difference of 203.
Points spread from top to bottom (2017/18)
|Points Spread from top to bottom (2017/18)|
The German domination continues unabated here, as the 2017/18 Bundesliga season had the smallest points gap between Bayern Munich in 1st and FC Koln in 18th. Of course, the reduced number of games played in a regular Bundesliga season has to be acknowledged, but even adjusted, their figure would keep them near the top of the most competitive list.
Ligue 1 is a close 2nd, with 67 points separating PSG and Metz at opposite ends of the table. Serie A continues to struggle in the competitiveness takes, with a whopping 74 points between Juventus and Benevento in the table’s final standings.
Points spread minus the runaway leaders (2017/18)
|Points Spread from 2nd to bottom (2017/18)|
4 of the title winning teams from our 5 analyzed leagues, left their competitors in the dust in 2017/18.
Manchester City finished 19 points clear of rivals United in the Premier League, while Barcelona finished 14 points of the chasing pack in La Liga. PSG opened up a 13 point gap by the time the teams in Ligue 1 kicked their last ball, while Bayern Munich finished a whopping 21 points ahead of 2nd placed Schalke 04 in Germany
Serie A had the closest title race out of the 5 leagues, with Juventus pipping Napoli to the Scudetto by just 4 points.
With 80% of our covered leagues completely dominated by a single team, it could be argued that the spread of points from first to last paints an unrealistic picture of the overall competitiveness of the division.
However, when we take the league winners out of the occasion, the order of the competitions shifts only slightly. The Premier League moves up one place to 2nd, though the nail-biting title race in Serie A counts against them again, keeping them firmly in last place.
With just 41 points separating 2nd from 18th in the Bundesliga, the Germans emerge victorious…….again.
To paraphrase (or butcher) a famous Gary Linaker quote: “Statistics is a simple field – you throw a few numbers around for a while and in the end, the Germans always win.”
The Bundesliga won 5 of our 8 Most Competitive League categories, showing that the German top flight is the currently the tightest major league in Europe in overall terms (though Bayern Munich fans might disagree).
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