There have been numerous phrases thrown around over the years by various people paying attention to top European leagues. Some of them are based off of historical information, like Serie A being a defensive league because of the way Italian football has used pragmatism to stifle free-flowing attacking sides throughout the years, like they did to the Austrian ‘Wunderteam’ in the semi-finals of the 1934 World Cup. That, of course, is hardly the only example of Italian sides playing in a defensive manner to grind out a result.
I’m sure we’ve all come across someone who says that ‘the Spanish league is a two-horse race’, due to the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona. We all know someone who will only watch the English Premier League, because they’ve been convinced by constant reinforcement through advertising and myopic punditry that it’s ‘the best league in the world’. Even Jose Mourinho has got in on the act of verbally writing off foreign leagues, saying, “Maybe I will go to a country where a kitman can be coach and win the title.” This in reference to Pep Guardiola’s decision to coach Bayern Munich in 2013, implying the Spaniard’s managerial success as manager there meant less than his own at Chelsea or any other league he had won titles in.
The question, however, is do arguments like that hold any substance anymore? This series will be broken down into three separate parts to answer three questions. First, is Spain’s La Liga more than a two-horse race? Second, is Serie A really a defensive-minded league? And finally, is the Premier League really as competitive as it is made out to be?
Before we can address any of these questions, we must establish what constitutes the top five leagues in Europe. According to UEFA, the top five leagues are based off of a country’s coefficient. This coefficient is then used to determine the number of clubs from a league association that will play in the Champions League and Europa League. The coefficient is based off of the performances of clubs in these two competitions over the last five years, ensuring the number is always relevant to recent performance.
As of the 29th September, 2016 the coefficients place Spain as the number one league in the world, as a result of consistent performances from club teams Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, who combine from the last five seasons to take out three Champions League trophies (Real Madrid 2, Barcelona 1) and four Europa League trophies (Sevilla 3, Atletico 1).
In second place is the German Bundesliga, with an all-German Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in 2013 registering their biggest coefficient points tally. Bayern were runners-up the year before and have fallen in the semi-finals for the last three years straight. Interestingly, Bundesliga sides have not progressed past the quarter final of the Europa League in the last five seasons, with Borussia Dortmund, Hannover 96, Schalke and Wolfsburg all failing to progress into the semi-finals during this period.
The English Premier League is ranked third, with both competition victories coming from Chelsea. They won the 2012 Champions League and 2013 Europa League, and alongside Manchester City, are the only English teams to have at least reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in the last five seasons. Liverpool were runners-up in the Europa League last season, which is as far as any other English side have gone since Chelsea won the competition in 2013.
Seeing out the top five is Italy, 4th, and France, 5th. Neither country has seen any titles won in the five-year period, although Juventus were runners-up in the 2015 Champions League final. Regarding the Europa League, semi-final showings from Napoli, Fiorentina and Juventus is the farthest an Italian side has made in recent years. For France, Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille have both fallen at the quarter final stages of the Champions League. Lyon’s Europa League quarter final appearance in 2014 was the best representative from France in the period.
The series will begin with a piece on Spain’s La Liga, using data from the 1999/2000 season up until the end of the 2015/16 season.