English Premier League is No More Competitive Than La Liga

Gareth LoweCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2010

La Liga is often criticised for Barcelona and Real Madrid's domination.
La Liga is often criticised for Barcelona and Real Madrid's domination.Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

Much is said of Barcelona and Real Madrid's dominance over La Liga. It is true that right now, nobody can compete with them. That I will not deny, nor would I highly regard the opinion of anybody who would. The argument is not that La Liga is not a two-horse race, the argument is that the EPL is also a two-horse race.

But it is not just the title race that determines how competitive a league is. It is the race for Europe, it's the relegation battles, it's the teams stuck in the middle of the table and it's how often upsets occur. This article is in a long time in the making, as this argument has raged on for years.

I feel it is important to point out that I am a fan of both leagues, and try to take an objective view. Were these criticisms going the other way, I would stand up in defence of the EPL as well. The article will analyse the stats from the inaugural Premier League season in 1992/93 to the end of last season, 2009/10.

The Title Race

Okay, Barcelona and Real Madrid do win La Liga nearly every year. This is common knowledge, as so many people seem unable not to point it out when La Liga is brought up. What is not so well-publicised, however, is that Manchester United and Chelsea always win the Premier League.

Why is this? The fact of the matter is that there is no logical reason, other than people simply denouncing La Liga in order to make the Premier League look better.

Since the induction of the Premier League, five sides have won La Liga, whereas only four teams have won the Premier League. Of the 18 titles available in each league between '92-'93 and present, Barcelona and Real Madrid have shared 14 in Spain, whilst Man United and Chelsea have shared 14.

Those figures appear suspiciously similar, don't they? Of the 28 titles combined, United have 11, Barcelona have eight, Real have six and Chelsea have just three. This means that United have dominated the English Premier League to such an extent that they have won over 50 percent of the available league titles.

Another point of note is that the last La Liga title to go away from Barcelona or Real went to Valencia in 2003/04. The last English side apart from Chelsea and Man U to take the title was Arsenal, also in 2003/04. Before that, it was Valencia on 2001/02, and Arsenal in 2001/02.

When considering a title race, second place must also be considered. In our selected time-frame, the Premier League has seen seven different sides finish in second place, four of which are the same sides that have won the title. La Liga's stats are identical, with seven different sides finishing in second place, with all five of the sides that have won the title also finishing in second at some point. 

Battle for Europe

The UEFA Champions League is the most prestigious club competition in world football, and fans of most big clubs in Europe will tell you they would rather see their club lift that trophy than their own respective league. The prestige of the competition is so great, that for most clubs it is an achievement to even compete.

Though the number of teams that qualify each year has changed over the years, La Liga and EPL have always had the same number of qualification slots, with the exception of 1998/99 when Spain had four and England only had three. Currently, both leagues have four qualifying spots. England have had nine different teams finish in qualification slots, whilst Spain has seen 13 teams finish in those places.

Relegation Battle

The battle against relegation is almost always a tense one, with very few points between the teams at the bottom of the table. The title race can be exciting, but in many ways, the battle for relegation is just as exciting, and on some occasions, even more so.

I feel the EPL possesses more interesting relegation battles, but the timescale we are analysing has seen some real Spanish giants relegated to the Segunda Division, such as Sevilla, Mallorca and Atletico Madrid, whilst the Premier League's biggest relegated sides are teams such as Newcastle and Blackburn (although Blackburn were a much bigger side when they were relegated.)

Actual figures are very difficult to compare on this topic, as La Liga has had some very strange seasons in terms of organisation, with number of teams in the league and number of teams relegated changing intermittently, as well as relegation playoffs in the earlier stages of our time-scale.

Essentially, the Premier League provides us with a much more interesting relegation battle, and are probably more competitive season by season, but La Liga's various relegation over the years have shown just how difficult a league it can be.

Mid-table Competition

As with relegation, mid-table competition is a very difficult thing to assess with statistics. I tend to class "mid-table" as positions between sixth and 15th. These are positions where the side will not be worrying about relegation, but title-contenders will not be concerned about them mounting a challenge.

This is obviously very broad, and in some seasons, the league can be so tight that there are very few points between seventh and first, or indeed 14th and 20th, but I feel this is the closest to a reliable scale that can be measured.

The Premier League contains many sides who consistently finish in these positions, or thereabouts. Aston Villa for example, up to last season, finished three consecutive seasons in sixth place.

West Ham is another team that, until recently, didn't tend to challenge for the title, but didn't look like being relegated, though of course in recent seasons that has become a genuine possibility. La Liga has few teams that finish consistently in mid-table.

Most sides, over the course of five or six years, will either mount a title challenge, or enter a fierce relegation battle. The exception to this would be Athletic Bilbao. Though once title challengers, Athletic Club have a tendency to finish mid-table in recent seasons. 

In Conclusion

Both leagues are extremely competitive. La Liga of late has seen Barcelona and Real Madrid build a massive gulf between themselves and the other sides, but that is down to the brilliance of the current incarnations of the Spanish giants, not the inadequacy of the teams around them.

These things work in cycles, and there was a time when nobody could compete with Man United. As Barcelona and Madrid build up debt and subsequently tighten their belts, the league will open up more and more.

The Premier League's problem with competition has much deeper roots, and only teams like Man City with their vast riches, and Tottenham, who have to go down as one of the most honest, hard-working clubs in the world, seem able to buck the trend in the top end of the table.