La Liga vs Premier League: Which Heavyweight Football Division is Stronger?
2nd April 2016.
Luis Suarez has enjoyed nothing but success since making the move from Liverpool to Barcelona ahead of the 2014/15 season. In his first campaign with Barca, Suarez won the treble and was a finalist for UEFA’s Best Player in Europe Award. He also got to play alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar in what many have called one of the best front threes in football history. This season, meanwhile, the Uruguayan striker is duking it out with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo to be the La Liga’s top scorer—all while hoping for a second treble in a row for Barcelona.
With all of this success, it would be easy for Suarez to call his time in the Spanish La Liga the highlight of his career. Yet, in a recent interview with The Daily Mail, the 29-year-old soccer star had wistful things to say about his days in the Premier League. Though Luis has previously gone on record saying he “couldn’t be happier” with his current career situation, he does seem to miss certain aspects of Premier League play. In particular, Suarez praised the unpredictable nature of England’s top flight, as well as the electric energy that fans bring into the stadiums on match days.
The La Liga/Premier League Battle
Suarez’s flattering comments about the Premier League have once again begged one of the most popular topics of discussion among hardcore European football fans: that of the Premier League/La Liga showdown. Which of these heavyweight divisions is stronger?
The longtime reputation for the Premier League has been that it is the most competitive soccer league in the world. The comments that Suarez made to The Daily Mail reflect that assertion clearly. “In the Premier League, you never really know what is going to happen,” he said. “There is very little between the teams. Here, three or four teams aside, there is a difference with the smaller teams.”
Suarez went on to talk about how, in Spain, the press often focus more on predicting “how many goals Barcelona are going to score today” than trying to predict who will win a game. The reason is that, with high-powered teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid, the win/loss outcome of a match is often seen as a foregone conclusion. In the Premier League, upsets and surprises are almost inarguably more common.
A League of Winning Streaks
For proof of the competitive nature of the Premier League, consider how quickly every chance at an undefeated 2015/16 season was dashed early last fall. The current EPL campaign kicked off on August 8th. By September 26th, when Leicester City suffered a 2-5 defeat, every club in the league had lost at least one game. Leicester City are the table leaders and most likely winners of the 2015/16 Premier League season, but their chances of stringing together an undefeated campaign fell apart in just the seventh week of competition.
As a Telegraph piece published at the time noted, there was a distinct contrast between the win-draw-loss records in England and those in Spain. When Leicester City recorded their loss in late September, there were still three undefeated clubs in the La Liga: Real Madrid, Villarreal, and Celta Vigo. Of those three, Real Madrid would hold out the longest, not conceding a loss until November 8th.
Looking at those numbers, it’s easy to think of the Spanish La Liga as a “league of winning streaks,” a place dominated by a few teams that can’t lose. But while Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Real Madrid do rule the La Liga with something of an iron fist, it’s worth noting that neither football club had an undefeated run that made it past week five this season. Perhaps the league is more competitive than Suarez—and everyone else, for that matter—give it credit for.
England’s Lack of Frontrunner
Still, despite the early stumbles for Barcelona and Atletico, both are thoroughly ensconced in the La Liga’s top three at this point in the season. Barca have made such a comeback that they are more than 10 points ahead of Real Madrid with just 10 games left to play this season. Considering the fact that Barcelona beat Real Madrid by just two points last year, in the midst of one of their best soccer seasons ever, that big advantage is a colossal feat.
The Premier League, meanwhile, is in the midst of what could go down in history as one of the most unpredictable seasons in history. From the collapse of defending champions Chelsea to the inconsistency of a Jurgen Klopp-led Liverpool side, from the continued struggles at Manchester United to the recent rough patch at Manchester City, the Premier League this season has been one unexpected turn of events after another.
On one hand, the lack of a frontrunner in England speaks to some serious technical deficiencies within the league. It’s pretty inarguable that the Premier League no longer has a club that can compete for a Champions League title. The top clubs in Spain, Germany, Italy, and France are probably all “better” soccer teams than anything England can muster at this point in time. In that sense, the Premier League is absolutely weaker than the La Liga.
On the other hand, the lack of a frontrunner has allowed the Premier League’s middle class to flourish, to the point where, overall and top to bottom, it’s the best league in Europe. Who would have been able to predict that Leicester City, a club that was just promoted into the Premier League ahead of the 2014/15 season, would be the point leader with just nine games to go? Who would have guessed that Tottenham Hotspur would be Leicester’s main competition for the title, or that West Ham United would be outplaying Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea for a spot in the top five?
The competition in the EPL this season has reached a near-unprecedented fever pitch, and there’s no telling how the standings will settle when May rolls around and everything’s been said and done. Right now, just 20 points separate the top 10 teams on the table. At the end of last season, the difference in point totals between first place (Chelsea) and 10th (Crystal Palace) was 39. Needless to say, it’s going to be a mad dash for the finish line, and Premier League fans can expect a lot of excitement and surprise along the way. As Luis Suarez said, the La Liga just can’t offer that kind of electric unpredictability.
Players and Technical Skill
What the La Liga does have are some of the most technically skilled players and teams ever to take the pitch. There’s an elegance to Barcelona’s play style that you won’t find at any English club, and a bevy of stars to boot. Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Suarez would all be the biggest stars in the Premier League if they were playing there today. The same could also be said for Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Indeed, just a look at last year’s 23-man Ballon d’Or shortlist proves that England is a bit light on star soccer talent right now. All three of the finalists (Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar) were La Liga players. Barcelona landed four other players in the top 23 (Suarez, Andres Iniesta, Javier Mascherano, and Ivan Rakitic), as did Real Madrid (Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Karim Benzema, and Toni Kroos). All told, La Liga players occupied 11 slots on the list—just shy of 50%.
In comparison, English clubs only landed five slots, and one of those was for a player who only transferred to the Premier League in the fall. 2014/15 PFA Player of the Year winner Eden Hazard finished eighth in the voting, with four La Liga players ahead of him. Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, and Kevin DeBruyne (a summer transfer from Wolfsburg) also made the shortlist.
So which league gets the win? At the end of the day, the verdict here mostly depends on what you want out of football. If you want a league where anything can happen, where almost every team is strong, and where there is no dominant title-winning dynasty, then the Premier League affords the best spectating experience. If you want to watch a league with world-class players and high-scoring clubs that frequently bring home European titles, La Liga wins.
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