Is the Premier League the most competitive league in Europe?
This post will explore questioning the legitimacy of the English Premier League’s status as the ‘most competitive league in the world’. The English Premier League along with La Liga in Spain have traded titles of the top league in the world for the better part of the last few decades. Because of this, I want to compare the Premier League with its rivals as well as the other top leagues in Europe to see which is more likely to have an increased level of competitiveness. This will come from an analysis of performances between the bottom of the table clubs and top of the table clubs from the end of the season. By comparing these, we can see if any of these leagues truly have evidence of the unpredictable nature they advertise to their fans. The appeal of any of the major leagues is that every team is of a high enough quality to win the title, but is that really the case? For this analysis, I will be using data from the 2017-2018 season for each domestic league as that was the most current data available through GitHub user geraldb.
The metrics I have used to compare these leagues, the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, and German Bundesliga, are the results when the top of the table teams determined at the end of the season played the bottom of the table teams which at the conclusion of the season were relegated to the lower level. This comparison should show whether the degree of competitiveness these leagues advertise can truly be found. If every team in the top division is skilled and of a high enough quality to be able to win, bottom table clubs should still have been able to perform against their top of the table rivals. So, for this analysis, I have used the data compiled to determine the results of each match in the 2017-2018 season for each aforementioned league, particularly each match in which one of the teams who was relegated at the end of the season played against one of the top teams in the league. The bottom teams were decided purely on which teams were relegated, not accounting for any teams who went through relegation playoffs and managed to stay in the top league. The top teams were pulled from each league based on their position in the table with qualification to the Champions League in the season following being used to determine how many top table teams to compare against. The leagues were chosen based on the data available as well as my knowledge of what is considered the ‘Top Five Leagues in Europe’.
To begin, I started with the English Premier League. The top four teams were used for this analysis based off of their Champions League qualification and as such Manchester City FC, Manchester United FC, Liverpool FC, and Tottenham Hotspur FC were chosen as the top clubs in the league. The bottom three clubs, all of which were relegated to the Championship at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 season were Swansea City AFC, Stoke City FC, and West Bromwich Albion FC. From my analysis, I found that in the twelve matches played between one team from the top of the league and one from the bottom, when playing at home bottom of the table teams won two matches against their top of the table rivals. One match was a draw and the remaining eight were losses for the bottom teams. In all of these matches, bottom teams managed to score ten goals overall compared to top teams who scored 26 goals. If the location is switched and we look at the results of matches where bottom teams were visiting their top of the table rivals, the bottom teams against managed to win only one of the twelve matches, drawing four matches away from home and losing the remaining seven matches. Bottom teams scored a total of five goals while playing away from home compared to the thirty-one top teams scored during the same matches. So overall, regardless of location, bottom of the table clubs won only three of twenty-four matches against top clubs, drawing six and losing fifteen of the twenty-four. In total, top clubs scored fifty-seven goals against bottom clubs, who only scored fifteen against them.
This summary shows that bottom of the table clubs have only about a 12.5% chance of winning a match when facing one of the top teams, a likelihood that falls further when facing the top team away from home. Three of the draws bottom teams managed to draw against top clubs were held at 0-0, and their low volume of goals scored overall shows how difficult it is for bottom table clubs to perform against their top of the table rivals.
You can never truly analyze information if you don’t have something to compare, so the next league I looked at was the Spanish La Liga. Here I used the same methods to pick the teams to be compared as with the Premier League. As such, the top teams found were Real Madrid CF, Atlético Madrid, Valencia CF, and FC Barcelona. The bottom teams who were relegated to the Segunda División following the 2017-2018 season were RCD La Coruña, UD Las Palmas, and Málaga CF. The same metrics were used, and the findings are summarized here. When playing at home, bottom of the table clubs won one of the twelve matches they played against the top four clubs, drawing one match and losing the remaining 10 matches. When the reverse fixtures were played in which bottom teams visited top clubs, none of the matches resulted in a win for the bottom teams. All twelve matches registered as wins for the top clubs, resulting in an overall record of one win, one draw and twenty-two losses for bottom clubs playing top of the table rivals. Bottom teams scored thirteen goals in total when playing top of the table clubs, who scored sixty-two in response.
Because of these results, from this season bottom clubs had a 4.2% chance of winning when playing top clubs in their league. Top clubs grossly outscored their bottom of the table rivals, leading to matches that were predictability decided before the first whistle blew. This evidence leans towards a much less competitive league than the Premier League, who’s initially low numbers seem to skyrocket in comparison.
Next to be considered is the famed Bundesliga of Germany. Using the same standard explained before, the top four teams were selected for comparison, Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, and FC Schalke 04. The bottom three teams chosen for comparison were VfL Wolfsburg, Hamburger SV, and 1. FC Köln. What was found was that when playing at home, bottom clubs won two of the twelve matches played against top clubs, drawing two and losing the remaining eight matches. In the reverse fixtures, no bottom team was able to manage a win against top clubs, but four matches did end in a draw (one being 0-0), meaning the remaining eight matches were losses for the bottom clubs.
Overall, bottom teams managed two wins, six draws, and sixteen losses against top rivals, leaving them only an 8.3% chance of winning against top table competition. Top teams outscored their opponents by thirty-eight goals, scoring fifty-six and only conceding eighteen to their bottom of the table rivals. This would place the Bundesliga somewhere between the Premier League and La Liga based on their winning chances, but highest in terms of goals scored by bottom teams as well as the lowest goal difference, being outscored by thirty-eight goals compared to the Premier League with forty-two and La Liga with forty-four.
Italy’s Serie A was observed next. Using the same standards, the top four teams from the league were used for comparison, SSC Napoli, FC Internazionale Milano, AS Roma, and Juventus. The bottom three teams who were relegated at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 season were chosen for comparison as well being Hellas Verona FC, FC Crotone, and Benevento. For the first comparison in which I looked at the results when bottom table clubs played at home against top of the table rivals, all twelve matches played resulted in a win for the top clubs. When playing away from home, bottom teams still did not record a win against their top table competitors but did manage a draw to leave eleven matches as losses.
Overall, Italian clubs in the 2017-2018 won 0% of the matches they played against top club rivals, only managing a point in one match, meaning their likelihood of getting any points against top clubs is 8.3%. Bottom clubs scored thirteen goals in all of the matches observed, conceding fifty-nine in comparison which puts Italy at the bottom of the competitive table in both winning probability and goal difference, which equals out to forty-six in favor of the top teams.
To conclude, given this analysis we can see that in terms of winning percentage for bottom table clubs, the leagues are ranked in competitiveness in this order: Premier League (12.5%), Bundesliga (8.3%), La Liga (4.2%), and lastly Serie A (0.0%) based only on the results from the 2017-2018 season. When ranking based on goal difference between top teams and bottom teams when playing each other the order is as follows: Bundesliga (38 goals), Premier League (42 goals), La Liga (44 goals), and lastly Serie A (46 goals). As such, the conclusion that can be drawn is that out of these four leagues, Serie A most likely has the most inequality between their top clubs and the bottom clubs. The Bundesliga and Premier League both have more competitiveness but still, it does not hold up the ideas they market on how any team in the league is of enough quality to win. As such, while you could argue the Premier League is the most competitive of the top leagues in Europe, you can’t say they are actually that competitive overall.