The most competitive football league in Europe | by Sertac Ozker | The Startup | Medium

The most competitive football league in Europe

A data analyst’s view

Sertac Ozker
Nov 14, 2019 · 7 min read

Last night I was watching a Champions League match with my friend and we started talking about leagues in Europe. I was complaining about the dominance of teams like PSG and Bayern Munich over their leagues. Then the topic turned towards which league is the most competitive in Europe. As a data analyst, I should be able to find some statistical indicators to answer this question.

I didn’t want to go over all the leagues in Europe as some of them are not that interesting. That’s why I chose the top 10 leagues according to UEFA as of last year.

Top 10 leagues according to UEFA as of 2018/19 season.

My approach was simple. I would look out the standard deviation of points for the last 5 seasons in these leagues and compare them. A league with closer points would have a less standard deviation showing us the most competitive league.

However, to be able to compare leagues with different team counts, you need to normalize the points first. So I made a calculation that would make teams have points between 0 and 100. A team losing all its matches would have 0 point while a team winning all its matches would have 100 points. I’ve also ignored the point deletion penalties in some leagues (especially Italy and Ukraine).

As can be understood from the statement above, a league with less standard deviation would be a more competitive league.

According to the graph on the left, Belgian Jupiler League is the most competitive one with a good margin.

I was expecting to see the English league in a higher position in this graph as I have such perception for the Premier League. I’m a bit disappointed.

Among the top 5 major leagues of Europe, French Ligue 1 appears to be the most competitive which also surprised me because everybody knows about the PSG dominance in there.

Yes, we understood that the Belgian league is the best overall. However, what is the most competitive season in each league? What do we see if we do not aggregate all the seasons?

Most competitive seasons in Europe in the last 5 years

If we look at each season individually apparently Turkish Süper Lig had the most exciting one in the 2018/19 season.

However, the Belgian league made it 3 times in the top 10 which makes it an interesting league.

If we just look at the major leagues, Spain had the best one on 2018/19 as well.

Let’s check the rankings for those seasons:

Turkish Süper Lig 2018/19 season results

As you can see on the table Turkish league in 2018/19 was a superb season as the top 4 teams are only separated by 6 points.

More interestingly, there are only 10 points between Yeni Malatyaspor which finished the league in the 5th position and deserved to go to Europa League and Bursaspor which relegated. There are 12 teams inside this 10 point difference.

Spanish La Liga 2018/19 season results

If we look at the major leagues, Spanish La Liga in 2018/19 appears to be the best season.

To be honest this one is not easy to understand as in the previous example. The mean point is 51.5 and possibly because there are many teams close to the mean, makes it statistically most competitive season in Spain.

I can hear you saying “but this is stupid. No one cares about the entire league table”. You are right. Everybody focuses on the top of the table.

If we just focus on the championship race, which one was the most competitive season in Europe’s top 10 leagues for the last 5 seasons? We can look at the normalized points for the top n teams. The results change depending on how many teams you choose.

For example, if we choose to compare looking at the top 2 or 3 teams, the best season appears to be the Spanish challenge in 2015/16.

Spanish La Liga top 3 in 2015/16 season

As you can see on the table, that was a really hectic year with 3 teams achieving incredibly close points.

However, the results change if we look at the top 4 teams.

Turkish Süper Lig top 4 in 2017/18 season

For the 4 team comparison, Turkish Süper Lig in 2017/18 season appears to be the most exciting one.

Extra credit goes to Russian Premier League in the 2017/18 season for 5 teams and Belgian 2014/15 season for 6 teams.

Some teams appear to dominate their leagues in our conception. For example, in the last 5 years, there was only one team being the champion in German and Italian leagues (Bayern Munich and Juventus).

Can there be a different team that wins most of its matches in its league but doesn’t win the title? We need a statistical approach and we will use our normalized points once again for this calculation.

Top 10 dominant teams in Europe’s top leagues (last 5 season)

If we look with this approach, we can see that even though Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk did not win all the titles in their league in the last 5 seasons; they dominated their leagues slightly more than Bayern Munich.

This data shows that these teams won nearly 4 of their 5 matches in the league which is incredible.

Let’s check each league one by one to see if that league has any dominant teams. You can consider these rankings as a possible standing for that league.

3 teams are dominant in Spain.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting Barcelona to be that much ahead of Real Madrid and I also didn’t know that Atletico Madrid was this good as well.

English Premier League is one of the best leagues with only 1 team being able to go over 70 points. And it’s followed by 5 teams with similar points.

Even with this much dominance, Manchester City could only get the last to titles.

In Italy, Juventus won the last 5 titles and it can be clearly seen on the graph left.

There is a fierce competition between Napoli and Roma to get the 2nd position. Napoli got it 3 times and Roma got it twice in the last 5 years.

There is no other league that the dominant team is this much ahead of the other teams.

But there is a nice competition for the 2nd place between many teams with only Dortmund getting it twice in the last 5 years.

Similar to Germany, PSG is winning it all in France as well.

However, they didn’t win all the titles in the last 5 seasons losing it to Monaco in 2016/17.

Lyon is another strange team in here. They volatile between the 2nd and the 4th position but overall consistency put them in the 2nd place in this league.

Amazingly, no team won the Russian title twice in the last 4 years.

This can be seen in the graph as no team can go over 70 points which is a psychological limit for me. It shows that no team is dominating the league actually.

There are 3 dominant teams in Portugal (similar to Spain) and they almost always finish the league in the same position.

Benfica wins it, Porto finishes in 2nd place and Sporting in 3rd place.

And behind this 3, there is always Braga :)

Belgian Jupiler League was the most competitive league in general and this is reflected in its graph as well.

Brugge has a bit of advantage here in front of the other ones winning the title 3 times in the last 5 seasons; but not with great margins.

Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv are dominating this league with a great margin. No other team got the 1st and 2nd positions with Shakhtar getting a slight ahead because of the 3 championships.

Turkish Süper Lig has a nice competition on the top. In the last 5 years, Besiktas got slightly ahead even though Galatasaray got more titles (3 to 2).

Fenerbahce and Basaksehir are close followers.

Please write down comments if you want to see more additions to these statistics.

Thank you for reading.

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