Between the English Premier League and the La Liga
NEWS DIGEST – There is no doubt that the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga are the two most highly rated football leagues in Europe, easily out-muscling their counterparts on the continental hierarchy.
A continuous debate over which is the superior league exists among football fans. There is also a constant battle for supremacy among the power-brokers, as well as players of both leagues. A disciple of the Premier League would tell you it is superior to the La Liga because of how competitive it is- with six teams realistically slugging it out for the title every season. An apostle of the La Liga on other-hand would tell you the Premier League is inferior, making the obvious recourse to the overwhelming continental success enjoyed by teams from Spain.
The truism in both views is well documented. However, can we strike a balance between the conflicting notions on the strengths of both leagues? Let’s examine some indices.
The intense competition in the English Premier League makes predictions a fool’s game. Every Premiership campaign kicks off with six teams realistically in the hunt for the vaunted trophy. The figure is three in the La Liga. And while the top-four battle is intense in England with a constant shuffling of the pack, it almost doesn’t exist in Spain with three of the four tickets to Europe’s elite party already bequeathed to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid before a ball is kicked at the start of every season.
In just the past three seasons, Premier League heavyweights- Chelsea, Arsenal, Man United and Liverpool have all had their fair share of being dumped out of the European hierarchy.
The last time the same three sides finished the season as the Premier League’s top teams, was in 2007. For six straight seasons in the La Liga on the otherhand, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have all finished in the top-three positions. Barcelona have not finished outside the top four in 15 years while Real Madrid have achieved the feat 18 years on the spin.
The Premiership’s defending champions’ curse is nine-years-old. In this period, no team has retained the English top-flight- an extraordinary run in the context of modern European football. In this same period in the La Liga, Barcelona have defended the title twice, while winning six of nine titles. Furthemore, in England, while some teams went close to claiming consecutive titles in the early years of this ongoing trend, the last three seasons have seen defending champions not just fail to retain the title, but struggle to mount even the vaguest of challenges. As the old cliche goes: winning the title is hard. But retaining it is even harder. The Premiership grants validity to this.
There is the small matter of unpredictability of the Premier League, borne out the huge competition contained therein. Burnley, Westham and Southampton are teams that have gate-crashed the European fray shortly after returning from relegation. In 2016, Leicester City won the league just two years after returning from the pit of hell. Alaves winning the 2019 La Liga title would spell the second coming of Christ.
This is one index fans of the La Liga religiously hold onto when justifying the inferiority of the Premier League to its Spanish counterpart. Rightly so, because La Liga dwarfs the Premiership in this regard.
Since the turn of the century, Barcelona and Real Madrid have won 10 of the 19 Champions League titles, to England’s three. In the Europa League, Spanish clubs have won 9 out of 19, to England’s three.
Of the last 18 major European and International club titles (Champions League, Europa League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup), Spanish clubs have won 17 and English clubs just one.
Real Madrid. Real Madrid. Real Madrid. Barcelona. Real Madrid. These are the teams that have won the last five editions of the UEFA champions League. Atletico Madrid, Man United, Sevilla (three consecutive times) have accounted for the last five Europa League titles.
When assessing both leagues based on performance in Europe, there’s no contest.
The English weather and passionate fans make many Premier League matches a lot more interesting than they should be on paper. While the atmosphere during top matches at historical venues like Anfield and Old Trafford are comparable to the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu, it’s the smaller grounds that elevate the Premier League above its Spanish counterpart.
Teams like Burnley and Stoke are dependent on their home crowds in their constant battle against relegation and there is a reason why the question “but can they do it on a cold and rainy night in Stoke?” has become a cult phrase.
The atmosphere in the stadiums doesn’t only make the game more lively for neutral viewers, but also contributes to a lot of upsets by lower-placed sides against the top teams.
The average attendance of a Premier League match in the 2016-17 season was about 36,000, whereas the average in La Liga was around 28,000. The Premier League grounds are simply better visited than those of La Liga. For instance, the average attendance of Espanyol’s home matches in the same season was half of their maximum capacity – something that would be unimaginable in the Premier League.
To put into proper perspective, 74,439 persons turned out at Old Trafford for this season’s Premier League curtain-raiser between Man united and Leicester. Meanwhile 32,578 seats gaped empty at the Santiago Bernabeu when Real Madrid hosted Getafe in their first match of the 2018-19 La Liga season.
The fact that the best players in the world ply their trade in the Spanish La Liga is not a recent phenomenon. Of the 61 years that the Ballon d’Or has been in existence, 21 of the winners have come from La Liga, closely followed by Serie A with 18. As for the Premier League, they have supplied a paltry 5 winners.
At the risk of sounding trite, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have accounted for the last ten FIFA Ballon d’Ors. And it wont end there.
From the last ten years, the UEFA team of the year has a whooping average of 6.9 players from the La Liga each year, with the Premier League offering a meagre average of 1.3 players per year.
How often have we seen English clubs surrender their finest players to Spain’s principalities over the last 10 years? Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Philippe Coutinho, Thibaut Courtois have all decided that their sporting interests are better served in the La Liga. This is not to say La Liga stars dont make the trip to England. However highly rated players that swapped Spain for England such as Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria all arrived in the Premier League either because they were deemed surplus to requirements or they needed to be sold off in order to bankroll the purchase of their upgrades.
One of 2017 summer’s more shocking statistics was that relegated Sunderland had a higher wage bill than Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid. The statistic brought into sharp focus the vast disparity in resources available to Premier League clubs compared to their La Liga counterparts.
The huge TV deal has ensured that Premier League clubs can see off the challenge of all but two or three of their Liga counterparts when it comes to transfer fees and wages. The Premier League has always been richer than La Liga since it’s 1992 inception but the £5.14bn TV deal signed in 2015 has put them on a whole new level.
Premier League clubs spent £1.24billion during the just concluded summer transfer window. The total expenditure was just over £200million shy of last summer’s total but smashed the £1billion threshold for a third year running. The average expenditure per club in the La Liga this summer transfer window is £35.6million. The Premier League’s average is £60million.
There is a vast disparity in the chequebooks of La Liga and Premiership clubs. Newly promoted side Fulham incredibly forked out a massive sum of £105.3million for player transfers this season- a mile contrast to fellow La Liga newboys Real Valladolid who have spent £900 thousand so far.
The Premier League may be all-conquering in the money stakes, but La Liga continues to reign supreme when teams from both leagues are pitted against each other on the continental stage.
Spanish clubs have won 21 out of 25 European knock-out ties against English opposition in the last decade with Sevilla, Barcelona and Real Madrid the latest to add to the tally with victories over Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool in the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League.
Dating back to the 1992-93 Champions League season — the first since the name was changed from European Cup — English and Spanish sides have faced off in the Champions League 138 times. When it comes to head-to-head competition for England vs Spain Champions League battles, La Liga is the clear winner. La Liga teams have won 54 times against Premier League sides compared to 39 for EPL teams. There have been 45 draws.
Furthermore, Spanish clubs hold a massive advantage in England vs Spain Champions League matches played in the knockout rounds. The leagues have met 36 times in knockout competition, with Spanish clubs moving on 24 times (68 percent of the time). Barcelona alone have beaten Premier League clubs three times in Champions League finals (Arsenal once, Manchester United twice).
Since the Europa League was rebranded in 2009, Spanish and English teams have collided 17 times in the competition. Premier League teams have been bested by their Spanish counterparts 10 times, while managing just 4 wins and 3 draws.
Just like the player-index earlier used, comparing both leagues based on head-to-head statistics is akin to a david-goliath comparison. However there are no miracles; the supremacy of the La Liga in this regard is overwhelming.