Is the Premier League really the most exciting league in Europe?

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Most fans would agree that this season’s Premier League is amongst the closest, most competitive ones we’ve seen in a long time. Not only are four teams battling it out for the title, but any one of ten or 11 teams could still realistically be relegated. Going into the final third of the season, all but one or two teams still have an awful lot to play for.

Does all of this excitement justify the Premier League’s self-anointed status as the best league in Europe, if not the world?

Fans of European football might disagree. In Spain there are currently three teams level on points and separated by just six goals going into the final fifteen games of the season. La Liga has not been quite so tight in a long time, and six of the eleven players picked in the FIFA World XI ply their trade in Spain.

Elsewhere German Champions and current kings of Europe Bayern Munich are in devastating form, having opened up a double-digit lead between them and their closest rivals and still going strong in Europe. And then there is Italy. With Roma having made much of the early running, the Old Lady of Juventus has fought back and now boasts a nine point lead, albeit with the side from the capital having a game in hand.

Incidentally, the national teams of all three of those other leagues are generally perceived as having a better chance of success than the England.

This article seeks to measure which league really is the most exciting in Europe through focussing on the number of goals scored in each and the level of competition – at both the top and bottom – throughout the league.

If Goals are a barometer of entertainment then the Premier League is certainly up there

Already this season 690 goals have been scored in the Premier League, at an average of 2.67 goals per game. However, while in absolute terms no league has seen more goals, more games have been played in the Premier League so far this season and each of the other leagues considered here all have greater goals per game averages:

Table One: Goals scoring across the top European leagues in 2013/14

TABLE ONE EPL V THE REST

That said, over the past three years, only the Bundesliga has managed to consistently outperform the Premier League as far as average goals is concerned:

Table Two: Average goal scoring across the top European leagues since 2010

TABLE TWO EPL V THE REST

Title race – one, two or multiple ‘horse races’?

To test which league is most competitive as far as winning the title is concerned we have looked at the points gap between first and second and first and third. Where these are relatively low, a ‘tight’ race has been assumed. Where these are relatively high, these might be indicators of one-horse races.

Based on the past three seasons, the average points difference between first and second and first and third has been as follows:

Table Three: The race for title across Europe’s top leagues

TABLE THREE EPL V THE REST

Again, using the Premier League as the benchmark it would appear that the Premier League is closest to being a more genuine three-horse race, although a gap of 14 points between first and third is still considerable. That said, it is clearly preferable to a gap of almost 30 points that has existed in La Liga over the past few years. Atletico Madrid deserve some credit for managing to reduce this.

Serie A deserves a mention for having (marginally) the tightest title race, whereas the Bundesliga, for all of its goals, would appear to be, in any given year, the least competitive.

Relegation dog-fights

From horse races to dog fights, it is possible to also estimate which league has provided most entertainment at the less glamorous end of the table. Using a similar method to above, we have looked at the points gap between the team finishing in the last of the relegation spot and the one finishing two places above that.

So, for the Premier League, we have looked at the points difference between the side finishing 18th (last of the relegation spots) and the team in 16th.

Table Four: The fight for survival in Europe’s top leagues

TABLE FOUR EPL V THE REST

As above, the Premier League holds its own in the ‘entertainment’ stakes having a comparatively low points differential between survival and relegation. Indeed, only La Liga has tended to have a tighter dog-fight.

The average for Serie A has been somewhat skewed by point deductions for match-fixing and other misdemeanours that have plagued Italian football recently. For different reasons, the Bundesliga is less competitive than its Western European counterparts.

Summary

The debate for which league really is the best in Europe will no doubt continue. However, having reviewed evidence from the past three league seasons some high-level conclusions can be drawn:

  • If you want goals then generally don’t go to Italy. While the numbers are increasing, games there still generally produce less than other European leagues. For goal lovers, perhaps a trip to a Bundesliga game involving Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund might be better.
  • For competition at the top end of the table, the Premier League and Serie A have provided the best ‘entertainment’. Over the past three seasons La Liga has most resembled a two-horse race.
  • If it’s a dog-fight you’re interested in, La Liga or the Premier League appear to offer the most entertainment – presumably provided your side isn’t embroiled in the relegation battle!

All in all, the differences between Europe’s top leagues are tight. Each can lay claim to being the best, at least to some extent, be that based on goals, goals per game or the overall competitiveness of the league at the top and / or bottom.

RELATED: Why don’t more English players play in Europe’s top leagues?

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