La Liga might have more recent European champions, and clubs from the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 might have reached last season’s Champions League final, but the Premier League is the most competitive of Europe’s top leagues with Manchester City the only side to win back-to-back titles since 2009. Surely that makes it the Greatest League in The World ™, right?
Well, not quite.
FIFA have released a new report mapping the game’s global competitive balance, and while the Premier League excels in some aspects, it falls behind elsewhere.
One way of looking at competitive balance is by comparing title winners. In Italy, Juventus have won the past nine titles in a row, which, alongside Bulgaria’s Ludogorets, is the joint longest winning streak in Europe. Bayern Munich’s eight consecutive titles make the Bundesliga look about as competitive as a school sports day when one of the dads is Usain Bolt, while Paris Saint-Germain would have picked up their third title in a row last season if not for COVID-19.
On the other hand, Spain and England saw new champions as recently as last season, and neither Real Madrid nor Liverpool are in pole position to retain their crown.
Over the past 15 seasons, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester City have all lifted the Premier League title. That’s more than any of Europe’s other major leagues except for France, which had seven different winners, including Montpellier, over the same time (Ireland and Sweden had the most with eight winners).
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In that same time, no English club has won the league more than five times, which would make the Premier League one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. Only Montenegro, San Marino and Kosovo have seen their top side win the title fewer times, while in Croatia, Dinamo Zagreb have won titles in each of the past 15 seasons bar 2016/17.
But when it comes to the difference between the top teams and the rest, the Premier League is far less competitive, even if West Ham United and Leicester City are giving the big boys a real run for their money this season.
Manchester City’s 4-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in midweek means they currently have 65 points. Had they won every game this season, they would have 81 points, so Pep Guardiola’s side have picked up 80.2% of the points available to them so far this season. At the other end of the table, Sheffield United have earned 14% of the points available and West Bromwich Albion have 21.7% of the points available at the time of writing.
FIFA’s report looks at the percentage of points won by the top three clubs over the past five seasons, with the higher percentage won, the less competitive the league.
By that measure, the Premier League is the seventh least competitive league in Europe, with the top team winning 83% of the available points, second place winning 73%, and third winning 64%. Germany is ranked the tenth least competitive with 81%, 69% and 61%, while Italy is the most competitive of Europe’s big five leagues with 79%, 74%, and 68%.
If you want to watch competitive soccer with a small gap between the top teams and the rest, Poland and Austria come out on top according to FIFA. Their league winners only picked up 54% and 65% of the available points, respectively, over the past five seasons, although this seems largely due to both leagues implementing a championship round and relegation round, which according to the same report, doesn’t seem to make much difference as to which team eventually wins the league.
The percentage of points won over the past five seasons does suggest though that the gap between first and third is not as big in the Premier League as it is in France and Germany, but the top three are more closely packed in Italy and Spain than they are in England.
FIFA boss Gianni Infantino said of the study that “Only by looking back can we know how to look forward,” so while the Premier League has got some things right in terms of competitiveness, perhaps it can still learn some lessons from Europe’s other leagues.