Computing Competitiveness

“The best thing about Premier League is, you never know what is going to happen next.”
“La Liga might be the strongest but Premier League is the most competitive.”
“I only follow Premier League because of how competitive it is.”
“Premier League this, Premier League that…”

Let’s see how valid those opinions are:

 

Factor #1: Point gaps on top.

Let’s not be deceived: winning margins aren’t, by any means, the best measure of league’s competitiveness. Tottenham Hotspur and Atlético Madrid fans will know it best, as their teams remain consistently outstanding while getting routinely outran to the titles by rather comfortable boundaries. Besides: a relatively large final day gap does not neccessarily indicate the lopsidedness of a league – in extreme cases, like 2015/16 Leicester City, it’s quite opposite, as Foxes swept their maiden big trophy but dominating the otherwise ultra-competitive (and thus inconsistent) chasing pack. That being said…

When it comes to a pure title race, there simply isn’t a better league to follow than La Liga. The current edge of 7 points Barcelona holds doesn’t seem much compared to Premier League, Serie A or Bundesliga – and yet, those 7 points are a bigger lead than the ones seen at the end of the last four seasons in Spain. The downside of all that? It’s only a contest between Los Blancos and Blaugrana, with a one-time, 2014 addition of Los Colchoneros. But still – a stale rivalry is better than nothing.

Then, there’s the Bayernliga. It’s been five years and eight months since FC Hollywood let Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund to snatch the league double. Ever since, the Bavarians have lost only twelve (!) out of their 192 Bundesliga matches, broke the record for the fastest ever, mathematically secured triumph (2012/13, after just 28 matches) and left everyone else in the dust – so much that their cumulative winning margins since 2013/14 alone would be enough to win the title last year!

And the highly-regarded Premier League? Let’s face it: since the fascinating, 2013/14 war between Liverpool and Manchester City, the title race has been dominated by single teams. The fact that those were the different teams each year does help a little bit but the gaps out there have been fairly large and could have been even bigger – if only the unquestionable leaders didn’t relax a little bit at the end of their winning campaigns. The current, Man City-era only underlined this less-than-ideal situation.

Only Build 4 Arab Linx – but destined to dominate.

Factor #2: Points dropped by the winning (leading) team.

This parameter is a bit better. Instead of measuring the level of a one-team dominance in a league that could otherwise be very competitive, it directly represents the minnowns’ ability to take points from the current big fishes. Obviously, in this department, the leaders of leagues with multiple, very strong teams should easily give away the most gifts by stumbling against the other top four / top five / top six opponents. Although, still – there are exceptions to that rule as well…

This time, Premier League deservedly comes out on top. Four years ago, the champs from Man City would suffer losses like 2-3 to Cardiff, 2-3 to Aston Villa or 0-1 to Sunderland. A year later, Chelsea might’ve been pretty much faultless – but in 2015/16, sensational Leicester won the league with the third lowest tally in this century, ahead of only 2000/01 and 2010/11 Man Utd teams. Even the deadly 2016/17 Chelsea had hiccups, losing to Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, Palace and Manchester United.

Only this year, the domination levels in England are absolute. Manchester City, the leaders who should normally be susceptible to defeats against other top six members, have defeated Liverpool 5-0, Chelsea 1-0, Arsenal 3-1, Man Utd 2-1, Tottenham 4-1 and narrowly lost the Liverpool rematch 3-4. Should this continue, Premier League competitiveness will surely suffer even more.

At the other end of the scale, Bundesliga has nothing to be proud of again. The 79 points dropped by Bayern in a 18-team league since 2013/14 would extrapolate to just 91 points if Germany had 20 teams in the top-flight. That’s still three less points dropped than in the case of Juventus-centered Serie A and seven less than in the case of ‘Barcelona vs Real Madrid’ La Liga. And after hijacking players like Rudy, Süle or, recently, Goretzka, the absolute behemots of Deutschland are very much in line to continue their devastating streak.

Another farewell in favour of Bayern; Schalke’s Leon Goretzka is joining Bayern this summer.


Factor #3: Number of draws.

Ever since the introduction of three-points-for-a-win rule, the role of draws in the modern football has drastically changed. From a legitimate result, they’ve become more of a byproduct of two teams fighting for much bigger stakes. In other words: when it comes to league competitions, draws have ceased to be ‘half-victories’ and became the unwanted outcomes that benefitted every team other than the two involved in them. Therefore, the overall high drawing ratos should indicate the higher competitive rating of given leagues.

Unfortunately, this statistic is unclear to say the least. Since 2013/14, all five top European leagues have produced very consistent, 22%-25% draw percentages. Especially La Liga’s stability in this department stood out: between 2013/14 and 2016/17, their number of draws varied only by six in the 380-game-long seasons. Ligue 1 has been overall the least decisive with the record-breaking 108 draws two years ago – but then, the Leicester-bound Premier League the same year missed the same ‘target’ by only a whisker.

If there’s a conclusion to be made here, it’s that the paradox of a ‘very competitive league, apart from one, totally dominant team’ definitely exists. Bundesliga and Premier League are experiencing it in full scale this season, when everyone from second place downwards simply fails to put any pressure on the leaders and ends up splitting points with each other. For instance: this season’s draw percentage in England is at record-high 28% – and still, we consider the race not so competitive, because of Pep Guardiola’s shameless ride to glory.

Taking no prisoners, while everyone else draws between each other – Pep Guardiola.


Factor #4: Number of wins by three goals or more.

The previous parameters might have been full of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, but this one is fairly straightforward. There’s just no way around it: the more one-sided demolitions a league witnesses, the lesser it’s competitiveness rating deserves to be – period. After all, to quote Frank Zappa: ‘There’s a big difference between kneeling down and bending over.’ – and ultimately, an utter collapse, manifested by scorelines like 0-3, 1-4, 0-5 etc. is strictly the antithesis of competitiveness.

Once again, the dreaded ‘Bayernliga’ impresses here. 238 three-plus goal wins in it’s last 1580 games amounts to just 15,06% thrashing ratio. Since Bayern alone are responsible for 48 out of those 238 hammerings (20,16 percent!), one can only conclude that the remaining nineteen clubs are incredibly evenly matched. In fact, if you exclude Bayern from the equasion, Germany’s demolition rating plummets to just 13,36 percent!

The same goes for Ligue 1, where PSG contributed 53 out of 271 beatdowns (19,55%). Without Cavani’s team, French league is boasting only 13,68 percent big-win ratio.

But it’s La Liga that remains an actual cruncher. Out of it’s 326 massacres, 72 (22,08%) have been produced by FC Barcelona; further 65 (19.93%) – by Real Madrid. Without those two clubs flattening everyone else in sight, Spanish league has only a 13,55 percent blowout rating and actually ranks higher in competitiveness than Ligue 1 – despite trailing it by 3,3 percentage points in a global comparison!

Confronted with that, Premier League comes off as far more lopsided. First of all, it’s overall big-win ratio is higher, at 17,11 percent. Secondly, even after substracting the record of England’s most frequent big-hitters (Manchester City, with 46 three-or-more goal wins since 2013/14), the richest league in the world has a 16,17 percent beatdown rating. For comparison: Serie A, recently perceived as not very competitive in the recent few years, has the same parameter at just 14,58 percent – and that’s after the exclusion of Juventus, who only delivered 37 similar wins in the last five seasons.

Dominating, but not by big scorelines – Juventus remain a textbook Italian side.


Conclusions:

For the past five years, Premier League simply hasn’t been the most competitive top league in Europe. In terms of the title race excitement, La Liga trumped it with ease; in terms of points shed by the eventual winners, only the miraculous Leicester City success has put it a notch above Ligue 1 and La Liga. The French competition, along with Serie A, has also scored higher drawing percentage than the English top-flight; at the same time, EPL boasted the second-highest three-or-more goal win ratio and the highest blowout ratio after the exclusion of it’s most dominant team in this department.

Does it mean that Premier League’s commercial and viewership success is just a gimmick? No. Crucially, England has an invaluable asset in form of six powerful, high-quality clubs that might not be of Bayern’s, Barcelona’s or Real Madrid’s level, but are more evenly matched with each other than the other countries’ behemots. It’s them, who push the franchise forward by providing not two, not four, not eight, but twenty so-called ‘big-games’ each season. No other European league is even remotely close to doing the same.

But let’s not delude ourselves: for top competitiveness, there’s statistically nothing better than Mainz against Stuttgart on a chilly Saturday afternoon.

 

*Disclaimer: all stats used in this article refer to league games played between the start of the 2013/14 season and the present day.

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