Most Competitive League in Europe – Reloaded
What makes a league competitive – number of different winners in the recent years or number of matches required to mathematically escape from a relegation dogfight? Is it really possible to measure competitiveness in isolation or should quality also be taken into consideration? Debojyoti Chakraborty presents an analytical answer to all these from GT Lab.
“Competition is an event or contest in which people take part in order to establish superiority or supremacy in a particular area.” Oxford defines competition this way. However, it is not so easy to define in reality. How do we classify competitiveness of a football league? Let us analyze.
We have evaluated competition in conjugation with quality. For instance, we would not have considered the Premier League in Nigeria, if it happened to be some country from Europe, even though their league table in 2013 was as competitive as one can imagine.
Have a closer look at the table – every team struggled away from home but the same teams had very decent records at home. I hope everyone here will agree with me that this congested league table speaks more about the clubs’ collective incompetence rather than the cutthroat nature of the league. Had we gone an extra yard and covered other leagues across the globe, I am pretty sure that Latin America, Africa or even Asia would have featured in our list. But for the time being, let us stay focused in Europe.
To start off, here is a word of caution. Competitiveness can be found anywhere, either in the poorer standards of small European countries (like Swedish Allsvenskan, having seven different winners in the last ten years) or in the lower tiers of top nations (ex – Championship in England). But we have restricted ourselves to the uppermost tier of the continent – top division leagues from the best five European nations. So English Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy) and Ligue 1 (France) enter the fray, in no particular order. It is unfortunate to see Premeira Liga (Portugal), Eredivisie (Netherlands) or Belgian First Division A – one of the best grooming grounds for young talents – missing out. But it has to be acknowledged that these leagues have not done enough in the last 10 years – the time frame for our analysis – to deserve an entry.
We have assumed that by and large, four top teams in the league table were in the title race throughout the season. So they form a pool of title contenders and hence certain analyses have been done considering only those teams. Similarly, bottom five teams are assumed to be involved in relegation battle and they have been considered as a pool of teams for different sets of analyses.
So, the stage is set; let’s see what our study reveals. First we need to select our parameters to measure competitiveness. There could be three broad areas where the cut-throat nature of a league can be assessed – matches finishing in stalemate, goal scoring pattern across the league ladder, and point spread in the league table. Let us take a look at these aspects one by one.
Number of drawn matches in a league season is a definite indicator about the gap in standard of the teams playing in the division. Now, since Bundesliga features only eighteen teams as opposed to 20 for other leagues, we had to normalize our data by dividing the number of drawn games with the total number of matches in the league (306 for Bundesliga and 380 for others).
Ligue 1 and EPL came out as winners. However, the gap has narrowed over the years among the five leagues. Things do not change much if we concentrate on the higher end and consider the number of drawn games among the top four teams only in these leagues.
“Top four” here represents crème-de-la-crème – a number often representing the maximum number of clubs to feature in the Champions League. So we have gone ahead and used that number (top four) as a benchmark of top teams / teams vying for the league title.
Go for Goal
Football, in its tangible value, is all about goals. In fact it’s a simple game – you score more than your opponents and you win. You won’t often see scorelines like 5-1, 4-0 or 6-1 in a league with teams having minimal gap in quality and execution. So we decided to call games lop-sided which finished with a margin of three goals or more. The lesser in number these games are, the more competitive the league will be.
There are way too many such matches in La Liga and Bundesliga than in Ligue 1 and Serie A. Besides this aspect, goal scoring is widely regarded as the most difficult and critical part for any football match. If all the teams – or even the top four teams in any league — are scoring rather easily, it does not augur well for the competitive nature of the league. But someone might argue more goals are nothing but a simple indicator of the free flowing nature or lack of defensive discipline of the league as a whole and it has nothing to do with competitiveness as such. Well, point noted. Then we plotted the variations in number of goals scored by different teams across the breadth of the league – the more the variance between teams, the less cut-throat will be the league. As it turned out, Ligue 1 again showed the lowest variance whereas La Liga showed a significant gap in class across the league table.
Finally comes the most obvious parameter for the measurement of competiveness – the points. This can be measured in several ways like
- 1. points dropped by top four teams against the relegated teams
- 2. point gap between top four teams
- 3. point gap between the last five teams (the teams generally involved in the relegation dogfight)
- 4. point variance across the league table
- 5. point gap between the champion and the last team
In all the aspects, Ligue 1 got the top two positions except for the fact that it had the widest gap in points between the last five teams. La Liga, on the other hand mirrored Ligue 1 showcasing the worst performance as far as competiveness is concerned but again, was behind only Bundesliga when we measure point gap between the last five teams.
The true distribution of points can best be understood through the use of Lorenz curve. In an ideal competitive world, every match would have finished in stalemate and every team would have finished the league campaign with exactly the same points. So if we plot the % of cumulative points vs % of teams who managed to accumulate those points we would have ended up with a perfect straight line at 450 angle. The closer the Lorenz curve to this perfect line, the more competitive is the league. And here are the results from 2015-16 season.
The area under the Lorenz curve is a measure for competitiveness, known as Gini co-efficient. Again, Ligue 1 seems a class apart, while Bundesliga takes the wooden spoon and rest of the leagues quite close to each other.
Finally, we ranked each of the leagues in terms of their average relative position for each of the parameters and here is how the final table looks like.
So considering all the aspects we have discussed so far, Ligue 1 turns out to be the most competitive of them all followed by Serie A, EPL, Bundesliga and La Liga. Just wonder, how the table would have looked like if we were to rank them on quality! So is it fair to conclude that La Liga biggies are too much to match for other teams in Spain?
Food for Thought
May be there is more to this theory. We have to mention two extraordinary gentleman here – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. These two will undoubtedly end their careers as two of the greatest goal scorers to have ever played the game. No wonder they have impacted our analysis in a massive way. While reaching 30 goal mark has been a stern test in other leagues, La Liga has seen that number breached – and go up to even 50 – regularly since 2008-09. This is no coincidence. La Liga has seen only six different top scorers in the last 10 years of LM10 and CR7 dominance. The number is as high as eight or nine for other leagues, effectively a new Golden Boot winner every season. Number of hat tricks will also leave you spellbound. La liga has seen 20+ hat tricks in a season quite a few times, thanks to this duo but other leagues have failed to reach even 15.
Not Over Yet
Finally, let’s move away from comparing leagues among themselves. Let’s weigh them against themselves. So in this endaveour, we’ll try to see how many different teams have won the corresponding league in the last ten years. Further, we have checked where the defending champions had finished and have added those numbers for 10 years. The results are here for everyone to see.
Again, Ligue 1 has as many as five different champions in the recent era. Champions in Italy though do not regress too much – once they have got the crown, they remain there or thereabouts in coming seasons too. EPL shows a massive spike here, thanks to two horrendous seasons by Manchester United and Chelsea after they were crowned the champions of England. Surprisingly, French and German champions have also fared pretty badly just after winning the domestic championship with only La Liga winners doing a decent job in subsequent years.
I had done a similar analysis five years back. So what has changed which led to this piece? One glance at the earlier coverage would reveal two things – first, the coverage has been widened both in length and breadth (no of leagues for comparative analysis increased from three to five, time frame also increased from five to 10 years), and second, this piece shows how Goalden Times has evolved as part of its analytical offering.
Finally, let us once again revisit the true nature of competitiveness. EPL may be but the most watched league in the world thanks to its financial muscles. Things are going to get even more lop- sided as the new broadcasting deal takes effect in the ongoing season. But even after that, it is debated how many of the current lot plying their trades in England would be an automatic choice for top clubs in Spain or Germany. At the end of the day, it boils down to personal preferences. Some would love to see a Manchester Derby featuring some of the most costly acquisitions of the world, some would rather vie for a match between Sevilla and Malaga.
All the data have been collected from UEFA.com and respective football association’s website