Premier League vs. La Liga: Is the Premier League Still the Best in the World?
The Premier League is viewed as the most competitive in the world with the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea all vying for the top prize, while the La Liga contains perhaps the two best teams in the world, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
But which is of these is really better?
In this article, we try to assimilate two varying views, from two different authors on this very subject.
A recent article of mine highlighted the possibility of Robin van Persie winning the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or.
However, the discussion quickly digressed into one important topic that has been plaguing football forums for quite a while lately—the quality of the Premier League.
One of my readers, trying to dispel the notions that La Liga is not a two-horse race, suggested that the Premier League is also the same: the two teams being Manchester United and whichever team happens to be bankrolled by a billionaire.
While I do concede to the fact that the Bundesliga edges the English Premier League (EPL) as highlighted by one of my own articles here, I wish to dispel certain notions about the EPL and cement its superiority to other leagues like the La Liga and the Serie A.
Henceforth, I will be arguing on the affirmative.
Contrarily, Michael Cerna, a regular at Bleacher Report, has collaborated with me on this article, and he will be providing rebuttals as to why the Premier League is not as superior to other leagues in Europe as thought otherwise.
He had the following to say:
"I actually do not deny that La Liga is a two-horse race. That much is clear. La Liga is incredibly imbalanced at the top of the table.
However, the EPL is not much better. The Premier League has become almost as imbalanced at the top of the table as La Liga. The current state of the league, going back three-four seasons, is far different from what it was a decade ago.
There are no longer four, much less six clubs competing for the title.
There are only two most seasons, sometimes three. With all due respect to Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool, those clubs do not consistently fight for the title for multiple seasons or even throughout an entire season.
Many fans who try to argue that the English league is balanced will automatically look to Spain as a comparison. The reason for this is clear—it makes the Premier League look better.
The question is, how much better? While we know going into the season that either Real Madrid or Barcelona will win La Liga, we also know that Manchester United and (formerly) Chelsea or (currently) Manchester City will win the PL.
The EPL has become a league where the title is only really contested by Manchester United and whichever billionaire-backed club is better that season.
What follows are my reasons that, while the EPL remains a world-class league and the best in some ways, it is not far superior to La Liga or Serie A."
5. Pace of the Premier League
Premier League matches are highly physical and move at a rapid pace, and are different from other leagues.
While the La Liga allows players to display a greater level of individual skills, the Premier League does not allow room for that. Opposition players close down quickly on these players in the Premier League.
For example: Two of the better play-makers in the EPL, Juan Mata and David Silva, simply cannot afford to make runs and overcome defenses. Often times they have to look for that incisive pass.
If you look at the Premier League, there stands out a host of defensive talent in the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Vincent Kompany, John Terry and others.
The holding midfielder role is also of critical importance in the EPL. Alex Song, Scott Parker and Yaya Toure are all critical members of the respective sides they play in who do a fantastic job of breaking up play and setting up an immediate counter-attack.
The La Liga is bereft of defensive talent and physicality.
Serie A on the other hand is more defensive-minded and fails to combine an adequate combination of both opting for defensive strategies rather than offensive ones.
While Bren is correct that the Premier League is a bit more physical and pacier, that does not make it better than La Liga or Serie A.
This is all a matter of taste and preference. While Bren apparently prefers this style, I do not. I prefer the more technical, patient style of La Liga. Others may prefer the more defensive style of Serie A.
And while Bren thinks that defenses close down on players more quickly in the PL, Serie A takes the cake there. Not all English clubs or players do this anyway—and some La Liga defenses close down very quickly as well.
Lionel Messi scored his lone goal in the Champions League final in large part because Manchester United's defenders failed to close down on him.
La Liga defences aren’t worse, Real Madrid and Barça are just that much better.
The individual skill in La Liga that Bren mentions is not (just) because defenses don't close down. It is also because the more technically gifted players are able to move through those defenders more easily than many players in England.
4. Effective and Equal Distribution of TV Revenue
The ratio of between the top club of the Premier League and the bottom club stands at a meagre 1.54:1.
It stands at 12.5:1 at the La Liga and 10:1 in the Serie A.
Manchester United took home around £60 million in revenue in the 2010-2011 season, while Blackpool took home around £40 million.
Barcelona and Real Madrid will take home £116 (€140) million in 2011-2012, while Racing will take home a mere £10 (€13) million. Even Valencia will take home only £40 (€48) million, almost the same figure as EPL’s lowest ranking club of 2010-2011.
This means that these discrepancies allow clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid to reinvest and make them stronger, while the others are left hugely behind.
Moreover, if the Premier League follows the model of the Spanish league, you can expect a broadcasting deal worth £3.2bn broken up between the Premier League clubs.
Given the deficits of many of the Spanish clubs coupled with strikes related to wages and TV rights that Spain has experienced over the years, the financial struggle being undergone by Spain currently might be reflected directly in the football league.
TV distribution clearly cannot be argued for La Liga or even Serie A (despite recent efforts at change in Italy). The EPL sets a great standard in this respect while La Liga allows many of its clubs to go into enormous, often crippling debt.
However, that still does not create balance at the top of the English league. While TV distribution rights are more balanced and limiting of larger clubs, profits and investments are not.
There are controls for clubs like Man City and Chelsea to control their spending.
Even when FFP rules go into effect, the clubs that bring in more profits will be able to spend more. And at this point, since these rules are about a decade late, the clubs that essentially bought, rather than built world-class clubs will have an immediate advantage.
Therefore, this makes the PL better in terms of TV revenue distribution, but not overall financial equality or league balance. It does not prevent the most profitable clubs from bringing in more revenue elsewhere due to their preconditioned advantage as a more talented club.
3. Performances in Europe
English clubs also perform superbly in Europe.
If you look at the record from 2005, you have had an English club in the final every year barring the one in 2010 when Inter Milan managed to win.
Liverpool won it in 2005, Arsenal were in the final in 2006, Liverpool were in the final again in 2007.
2008 even saw an all-English final between Chelsea and United, and 2009 would’ve been the same if Chelsea had not been cheated out of the final by exceptionally poor refereeing decisions.
United were in the final again in 2009 and 2011.
This is the only year where English clubs have stumbled, but sometimes slip-ups happen, and that does not degrade the quality of the league.
Before writing this article, this is the one point that I said was the best argument for the PL as arguably the greatest league in Europe.
However, much of this past dominance may not be present anymore. Plus, can we even call it dominance since two Spanish clubs have more European championships than all English clubs combined?
While the recent talks of the PL's demise across Europe are greatly exaggerated and short-sighted, it is important to at least question whether there are more than two or three English clubs that can truly compete for the CL title.
This is where it is very important to look at the new Premier League and at the former glory days. I believe we have to look at a three-five year period to measure the strength of a league.
The Manchester clubs are the two most capable clubs at the moment (even though Man City has in no way proven that it could even make a CL final).
I know I will get flak from many Arsenal fans who want to believe otherwise, but the Gunners have not been challengers for the CL title in more than five years. Inconsistency is their major problem.
Liverpool can't even make the Champions League, much less win it.
Tottenham are currently a great club, but we have to see whether or not they can build on recent successes rather than lose their best talents before we can put them on a level with the Barcelonas, Bayern Munichs and Man Uniteds of Europe.
Let’s not forget that in the last four years, Valencia, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Villarreal have all made it past the group stages. That isn’t much worse than the EPL.
While I still believe England has the most top-quality clubs at the European level of any league, only two, maybe three of those clubs can actually win the tournament.
Better? Most likely.
"Head and shoulders" above the rest? No.
2. Intense Two-Fold Competition Part 1
The Premier League, barring the Bundesliga, has an astounding level of competition. If you look at this year’s table, you have six clubs competing for the Champions League spots and three still in genuine contention for a title.
These Big Six are of course Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
The intensity of the Premier League is highlighted by the fact that any club out of these six clubs may be able to take home the title.
We are already into March, and the title can swing in any club’s favour which is in sharp contrast to the La Liga where Real Madrid are going to win comfortably unless they experience a horrendous run of form.
In the Premier League, you also have this added element that I like to describe as two-fold uncertainty.
The first uncertainty arises from the fact that upsets happen regularly and change the entire season. Take Liverpool for example.
Liverpool have performed excellently against the better teams, but have not been able to grind out results from the mid-table teams.
Furthermore, this is a league where Everton and Sunderland upset Manchester City.
Low-lying Blackburn upset United, and you cannot even start compiling the number of times that lesser clubs have upset the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal.
Bren's logic here is a little one-sided. I would argue that there are only five clubs really in contention for the Champions League in England, but since Newcastle are only five points out, we'll let it be six. Of course, we have to actually look at other leagues before saying this makes them better.
In truth, there are only five clubs in both Serie A and the Bundesliga actually in contention for Champions League qualification.
La Liga has 11 teams in the running for Champions League competition next season.
While two, arguably three of those spots are already spoken for in August, there is enormous competition for the final spot. So compared to the EPL, La Liga is actually much more competitive at the upper-mid level of the league than the English league.
As for the "Big Six," this is where Bren may be stuck in the past. In no way are there six clubs in the running for the title.
Right now there are only two and before the season starts, anyone unattached to one of the Big Six knows that there are only three at most. How we can say there are six competitors when three of those have never even won the Premier League?
The top of the tables is actually where the EPL is the least competitive.
As for the upsets, I recommend comparing the upsets against the true contenders in England compared to the upsets of the true contenders in Italy and Spain.
1. Intense Two-Fold Competition Part 2
The second form of uncertainty, which is of more importance, is that when these six clubs face each other, you can never predict who is going to win.
Last year, Liverpool put three past United.
This is a league in which uncertainty adds a whole new dimension.
Next year it will get even more intense, as Chelsea will look to regroup, Arsenal will invest wisely in quality players and Liverpool have the financial power to bring in a few extra stars.
My very own rebuttal to the argument of Manchester United vs. "Billionaire of the Year" club is to look at a near-perfect Bundesliga; yet, by the same logic it is Bayern Munich vs. "Some Other Team."
Is Bundesliga a two-horse leg by any stretch of the imagination? I highly doubt that.
While I agree that this aspect is exciting in England, it is not just in England that this happens.
In Spain, Real Madrid were beaten by Levante , the poorest club in the league. Barcelona were beaten by Osasuna and Getafe—far from powerhouses. Milan and Juventus have both lost points to many lower clubs.
Dortmund have lost to Hannover, Hertha and Hoffenheim. Bayern to Hannover, Bayer and Mainz. This happens in all leagues.
Beyond the actual contenders is where it is most evident, though.
It is just as hard to predict a result of any matchup between Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Malaga or Lazio, Inter, Napoli and Udinese as it is to predict the same between Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham.
This great uncertainty is not greater in England than in Germany, Italy or even Spain. Saying that next year will be even more intense and more balanced, especially at the top, is a cry that PL fans have been using for a few years now.
Besides, the same is true in Spain with Malaga buying up more talent, Valencia having finally completed a deal for its new stadium, and Atletico Madrid ready to reinvest as a top club.
The same is also true in Italy with Juventus ready to spend, Napoli ready to build on past success, and Inter hoping to rebuild with a younger squad.
The EPL is no more balanced or unpredictable than these other leagues, especially in terms of actually fighting for a title, much less head and shoulders above them.
What do you think of this debate?
I was arguing on the affirmative that the English Premier League remains as enthralling as ever and other leagues like the La Liga and Serie A have a lot to accomplish.
Michael on the other hand argued on the contrary and brought up some plausible arguments on behalf of the other leagues.
As a summary, let me direct your focus towards The UEFA coefficient rankings which are a set of rankings devised to rank and seed national leagues in European Competition.
Special Thanks to Michael Cerna for his valuable input.
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