B/R Football Ranks: Europe's Top Leagues by Chances of a New Champion Crowned

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterSeptember 9, 2019

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield on August 24, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

When the first international break hit last week, a quick glance at Europe's top divisions brought a raft of rather different names topping the tables.

It's extremely early days, granted, but it was encouraging to see very few of 2018-19's title winners in pole position. In some cases, it's an early-season quirk; in others, it's a sign there's a genuine race in place.

Oh, do we need a few of those.

Outside of Manchester City vs. Liverpool for the Premier League crown last season, few other leagues offered us drama in that department. Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain all won at a canter, while Bayern Munich wedged themselves into the driving seat with a month to go.

So as the domestic football world has paused for a week, we've taken a look at eight top European leagues and asked the question of each: How likely is it we'll see a new champion crowned in 2020? We've then ranked the leagues in order of likelihood.

For Portugal, Netherlands and Turkey insights, we've called on experts in the field for their help.

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8. Ligue 1

2018-19 champion: PSG

Current leader: PSG

PARIS, FRANCE - AUGUST 11: Kylian Mbappe #7 of Paris Saint-Germain celebrates his goal with Juan Bernat Velasco #14, Edinson Cavani #9 and Pablo Sarabia #19 of Paris Saint-Germain during the Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain and Nimes Olympique at
Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

Ligue 1 is the only one of Europe's top five leagues to boast the same previous champion as the current leader—albeit only by goal difference, as Rennes are level with PSG at the top along with Nice and Angers.

Still, it's arguably the most difficult division to foresee a changing of the guard; try to come up with a sensible, reasoned case for any club usurping them over 38 games and you're really going to struggle.

Rennes have the talent and spirit to be this campaign's Lille, who stormed to second last year on the wings of Nicolas Pepe, but lasting the distance against the might and depth of PSG is going to be so, so difficult.

Lyon's Dutch forward Memphis Depay (C) is congratuled by teamate Lyon's French forward Moussa Dembele (R) after scoring a goal celebrates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between Olympique Lyonnais (OL) and Angers SCO on August 16,
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/Getty Images

Despite their fantastic run, Lille still finished a whopping 16 points off PSG last term, and that's the realistic gap you're asking teams to close. Are Rennes 16 points better than Lille were? The honest answer is no.

The other potential contender is Lyon, who lost some real talent this summer—Ferland Mendy, Nabil Fekir and Tanguy Ndombele—but hired a new manager and recruited well to fill those holes. They're perhaps more of a cup threat than a league threat, though, as it's again difficult to foresee them maintaining the consistency required.

Chance of a new champion: 10 per cent


7. Eredivisie

2018-19 champion: Ajax

Current leader: Vitesse Arnhem

Ajax's Dutch forward Quincy Promes celebrates his goal against Sparta in the Eredivisie football match, Sparta Rotterdam against Ajax in Rotterdam on September 1, 2019. (Photo by Olaf KRAAK / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT        (Photo credit should read O
OLAF KRAAK/Getty Images

"Despite the departure of four regular starters/squad rotation options in Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Lasse Schone and Kasper Dolberg, Ajax are still the overwhelming favourites for the league title," says Dutch football expert Michiel Jongsma.

Indeed, the fact they can still call the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Donny van de Beek, Dusan Tadic, Andre Onana, Noussair Mazraoui and more "theirs" is perhaps incredibly fortunate—something we spoke about in last week's B/R Football Ranks podcast

Jongsma points to this, plus the good recruitment work that has brought in Edson Alvarez, Lisandro Martinez, Razvan Marin and Quincy Promes, plus the emerging Sergino Dest, as reasons to expect Ajax to win it again.

"With the salaries and transfer fees Ajax are willing to pay, which is about double of what any other team in the Netherlands can, the other teams are up against it," he says. "For teams like Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar, a title challenge seems fairly impossible at this point. The only team that might challenge is the usual suspect in PSV Eindhoven."

LIMASOL, CYPRUS - AUGUST 29: Donyell Malen of PSV celebrates goal during the UEFA Europa League   match between Apollon Limassol v PSV at the Tsirion Stadium on August 29, 2019 in Limasol Cyprus (Photo by Photo Prestige/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

PSV lost some starters too—Hirving Lozano, Luuk de Jong and Angelino, all to major clubs—but added RB Leipzig's Bruma and young star Ritsu Doan in the summer. They join the talented Steven Bergwijn and Donyell Malen in a good cast of talent.

"PSV's attack is good enough to give them the edge against at least 16 of their 17 Eredivisie opponents," says Jongsma. But that, seemingly, is still not enough.

Chance of a new champion: 25 per cent


6. Turkish Super Lig

2018-19 champion: Galatasaray

Current leader: Alanyaspor

Galatasaray FC presents Colombian striker Radamel Falcao salutes fans during a signing cerenomy for their new transfers at TT Arena stadium in Istanbul on September 4, 2019. - Galatasaray confirmed the signing of veteran Colombian striker Radamel Falcao f
OZAN KOSE/Getty Images

"The fans and the media believe Galatasaray are the team to beat," says Turkish football expert Emre Sarigul.

"They strengthened in all areas: Ryan Babel, who continues to age like a fine wine; fellow ex-Fulham teammate Jean Michael Seri; enfant terrible Emre Mor; and then the icing on the cake, Radamel Falcao. Twenty-five thousand fans welcomed him at the airport in Istanbul.

"He may not be at his peak, but in signing him, Gala won the psychological war."

All in all, the reigning champions signed 12 players as they pushed to take a true stranglehold over a division that has been a little up in the air this decade. It surely only strengthens their grip, right?

Ryan Babel of Galatasaray SK during the Pre-season Friendly match between Red Bull Leipzig v Galatasaray SK at Stadion Tivoli on July 19, 2019 in Innsbruck, Austria(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

"Things never go quite to plan in the Super Lig," Sarigul warns. "Galatasaray are favourites but not in the sense that, say, PSG are. The likes of Beşiktas and Fenerbahce have also built strong sides. 

"But my dark horses are Trabzonspor. They are building something special in the stormy north-east. Daniel Sturridge should strengthen a forward corps already containing Alexander Sorloth and Caleb Ekuban, but it's the young players that look really exciting. Remember the name Abdulkadir Omur. You'll be hearing a lot more about him over the next few months."

In discussing the contenders, there's no actual love for current leaders Alanyaspor. Don't expect them to feature in the fight.

Chance of a new champion: 25 per cent


5. Serie A

2018-19 champion: Juventus

Current leader: Inter Milan

MILAN, ITALY - AUGUST 26:  Romelu Lukaku of FC Internazionale  in action during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale and US Lecce at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on August 26, 2019 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)
Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Juventus have won the last eight Serie A titles. It's great for them, but very boring for everyone else. Is 2019-20 going to be different? Can you sense a change in the direction of the wind?

For many, the answer to this question is yes. Even before a ball was kicked, Inter Milan were identified as genuine contenders with new manager Antonio Conte predicted to make his usual short-term impact and few—if any—teams doing better transfer work over the summer.

Calcio expert Alex McGovern tipped them for the title on the B/R Football Ranks Serie A preview show, and the first two results—beating Lecce 4-0 and Cagliari 2-1—offer a glimpse at what he's so excited about.

Of course, beating those that make up the numbers is one thing; beating Juventus, and staying the course with them, is another entirely.

While some pile aboard the Nerazzuri train, others—such as this writer—step with a little more caution still. Juventus boast what is arguably the deepest squad at the top level of world football; it's riddled with quality and spearheaded by the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo.

Juventus' Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his team's opening goal during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Napoli on August 31, 2019 at the Juventus stadium in Turin. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP)        (Photo credit shou
MARCO BERTORELLO/Getty Images

They, too, have won their first two games this season, and even though Giorgio Chiellini has torn his ACL, they have plenty of central defensive talent to call upon in his absence.

With Juve and Ronaldo around, it's hard to label anyone else favourites; what we are perhaps looking at, though, is a title race as close as 2017-18's, when Napoli amassed 91 points but still lost out by four.

Chance of a new champion: 40 per cent


4. La Liga

2018-19 champion: Barcelona

Current leader: Atletico Madrid

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 31: Antoine Griezmann of FC Barcelona during the La Liga Santander  match between Osasuna v FC Barcelona at the Estadio El Sadar on August 31, 2019 in Pamplona Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

How much do you take from Barcelona's early fragilities, on show for the world to see?

A haul of four points from three games is not good enough for a club such as this, and Ernesto Valverde's seat is already hot. Fortunately for him, Real Madrid's circus has spilled into the new campaign, meaning Zinedine Zidane is attracting his fair share of the headlines, too.

All of this has seen Atletico Madrid soar to the top with three wins from three under their belts, though the final one came via a squeaky 3-2 victory over Eibar, with the winner scored at the death.

They've recovered from the loss of five key players remarkably well, remoulding, regrouping and handing us plenty of reasons to get excited about what they might achieve.

But two key X-factors are now set to enter play—their names being Lionel Messi and Eden Hazard—and they have the potential to shake things up once again.

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 01: Diego Costa and Joao Felix of Atletico de Madrid runs with the ball during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and SD Eibar SAD at Wanda Metropolitano on September 01, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sp
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

They're both set to return to action following the international break, making their first appearances of the season. Barcelona are still heavily reliant on Messi, while Madrid are crying out for Hazard's impact.

Right now, you'd still consider Barcelona the favourites for the title. But if Messi doesn't find form immediately, they could see the task in front of them scale and scale.

Chance of a new champion: 40 per cent


3. Premier League

2018-19 champion: Manchester City

Current leader: Liverpool

Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola (R) embraces Manchester City's Spanish midfielder David Silva following the English Premier League football match between Bournemouth and Manchester City at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth, southern Engl
GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

Liverpool ran Manchester City unbelievably close last year, forcing them to embark on a 14-game winning streak to close the season out as champions. Ninety-eight points trumped 97 in the end.

It was an almighty tussle, one that captured the world's attention, and we'd love nothing more than to see the same again.

The early signs are it will be a two-way fight again with no other club showing the kind of talent and tactical organisation required to rival them. So the question becomes who holds the edge, and has the balance shifted in any way over the summer?

As the season began back in August, most had City to win it again by a bigger margin. The logic was that while the Reds stood still in terms of squad strength, not signing one first-team player, the Blues papered over the thin cracks showing in their exterior.

Liverpool's Senegalese striker Sadio Mane (R) celebrates with teammates Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah (L) and Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Roberto Firmino after scoring a goal during the UEFA Super Cup 2019 football match between FC Li
BULENT KILIC/Getty Images

As assessments go, that's pretty fair. But early developments have somewhat swung the pendulum back towards Anfield.

The knee injury sustained by Aymeric Laporte last week will shut him down until 2020, and it can't be overstated how problematic this is for City. They waved Vincent Kompany off into the sunset over the summer and opted not to sign a replacement centre-back, meaning they'll now play the rest of the year's fixtures without the exact duo that got them over the line in May.

It's still fair to say Pep Guardiola's men are favourites for the title, but things just got uncomfortably close again.

Chance of a new champion: 50 per cent

  

 


2. Primeira Liga

2018-19 champion: Benfica

Current leader: Famalicao

LISBON, PORTUGAL - AUGUST 24:  Moussa Marega of FC Porto in action during the Liga NOS match between SL Benfica and FC Porto at Estadio da Luz on August 24, 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)
Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

After four gameweeks, it's not Benfica, Porto, Sporting CP or even Braga who lead the Primeira Liga in Portugal, but newly promoted Famalicao.

They're an extremely interesting story; a club powered by super-agent Jorge Mendes, their predictably strong summer transfer work has facilitated a quick start in the league.

But that challenge isn't expected to last, and Portuguese football analyst Tiago Estevao only sees one genuine contender to Benfica's crown: the old enemy, Porto.

"Porto are the main threat, having invested a lot for this season," he says. "Tactically they aren't the most charismatic side, but a dominant 2-0 win away to Benfica this August pushed all those issues aside."

Estevao cites a lack of squad depth and a loss of irreplaceable players as Benfica's biggest issues, two things that open up a title race.

LISBON, PORTUGAL - AUGUST 24:  Jesus Corona of FC Porto in action during the Liga NOS match between SL Benfica and FC Porto at Estadio da Luz on August 24, 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)
Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

"Their squad really isn't that deep, particularly in midfield, and early-season injuries to Gabriel and Chiquinho are not helping out at all. When more matches come along, this problem will expand even more," he says.

"Their title hopes will be based on how well they manage to replace Joao Felix's production. They bought a lot of strikers in the market, but none with Felix's link-up play (and Jonas before him)—a second forward type—meaning their 4-4-2 formation is much flatter and has a lot more trouble breaking down smaller sides."

The Portuguese big guns have to be close to flawless against the rest of the pack, winning relentlessly in order to last the distance. An away blip to an Aves or a Santa Clara could be fatal. Benfica may have left themselves more susceptible to such a slip.

And Famalicao?

"It would be fun, but that's just not realistic," Estevao says. "They have a really solid team, though, so the question is whether they drop into a safe midtable spot or can compete for Europe in their first season."

Chance of a new champion: 50 per cent


  

1. Bundesliga

2018-19 champion: Bayern Munich

Current leader: RB Leipzig

MUNICH, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 01: (L-R) Lucas Hernandez, Thomas Mueller, Robert Lewandowski and David Alaba of FC Bayern Muenchen during the FC Bayern Muenchen and Paulaner photo session at FGV Schmidtle Studios on September 01, 2019 in Munich, Germany. (Ph
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Bayern may have secured the Bundesliga title last season, but in no way was it at all convincing. They had to chase Borussia Dortmund down and then nervously saw it out, only confirming themselves champions on the final day.

They promised a big summer in response, but that didn't materialise. The defence has been strengthened, and Philippe Coutinho on loan could be a masterstroke. But they missed out on several high-profile targets, and there's a feeling things didn't really play out as hoped. As a result, they're still vulnerable.

Dortmund are the obvious contenders once again, and they did nothing but strengthen over the summer, bolstering their squad with options and experience. Mats Hummels figures to be particularly important here, providing a guiding hand in an otherwise young defensive line.

COLOGNE, GERMANY - AUGUST 23: Jadon Sancho of Dortmund during the Bundesliga match between 1. FC Koeln and Borussia Dortmund at RheinEnergieStadion on August 23, 2019 in Cologne, Germany. (Photo by Jörg Schüler/Getty Images)
Jörg Schüler/Getty Images

RB Leipzig are the current leaders, buoyed by the impact of new manager Julian Nagelsmann and the re-upping of Timo Werner's contract. They've looked the most explosive of any Bundesliga side over the first three games and have already beaten two very strong sides in Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Monchengladbach.

We've ranked the Bundesliga No. 1 in this list as there are two sides who could feasibly knock Bayern off their perch. If it happens, it'd be the first time since 2012 they're not crowned champions.

Chance of a new champion: 60 per cent

Follow @stighefootball

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All statistics via WhoScored.com.

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