The Spanish La Liga has produced more Balon dor winners in the last decade than any other league in the world; Yet the English premiership boasts of the most viewership amongst all top leagues. The best football leagues in the world are also the richest football leagues in the world and highest paying soccer leagues in the world
Here is a look at the top 10 world football leagues ranked on statistics.
best football leagues in the world:
10. Major League Soccer
Goals Per Game: 1.3
Red Cards Per Game: 0.09
Continental Wins: 11
Point Differential: 43
Major League Soccer is still growing as a league, but it made plenty of strides forward during the 2013 season.
The parity in the league was at an all-time high with close to 14 teams in the hunt for the 10 MLS Cup Playoffs spots in the final weeks.
What did MLS in was their dead weight at the bottom of each conference table and their lack of continental wins spread across five teams in the CONCACAF Champions League.
9. Serie A
Goals Per Game: 1.38
Red Cards Per Game: 0.14
Continental Wins: 15
Point Differential: 39
Look away now, fans of Serie A, as your favorite league is down in ninth place on this list.
The two main reasons for the Italian top flight ranking this low are the high amount of red cards and massive gulf in class from top to bottom in the table.
Out of all the leagues examined, Serie A had the worst red card rate with 52 total ejections across 380 games in the 2013-14 campaign.
Coincidence or not, the league with the highest red card percentage was also one of the worst in terms of point differential.
Out of the top European leagues, the 39 points currently separating Juventus and Catania was the one of the worst.
Luckily, a few other leagues across the pond in North and South America beat the Italians to the title of highest point differential.
Regardless, Serie A’s lack of discipline hurt them in a massive way as the momentum in numerous games was shifted because of red cards.
Goals Per Game: 1.23
Red Cards Per Game: 0.09
Continental Wins: 23
Point Differential: 56
The domestic league with the highest point differential that we examined was the Brasileirao.
An eye-popping 56 points was the difference between 2013 winners Cruziero and 20th-place finishers Nautico.
Despite the lack of parity at the domestic level, Brazilian clubs did work wonders at the 2013 Copa Libertadores with five clubs reaching the knockout phase.
Of those five clubs, Atletico Mineiro ended up as the South American champion with Fluminense being the only other side reaching the quarterfinals.
While they did have a successful group campaign at the continental level, Brazil’s best clubs not named Atletico Mineiro could not get the job done when it mattered most.
7. Argentine Primera
Goals Per Game: 1.08
Red Cards Per Game: 0.10
Continental Wins: 18
Point Differential: 27
Some may argue that the Brazilian league is superior, but the counter argument to that is the consistency of the Argentinian league.
In the first 19 games of the 2013-14 season, the 20 clubs were separated by 27 points, but that total would have been even less had last-place Colon not been docked six points.
While the number of goals per game may not excite many, the games in Argentina so far this season have been close and that is shown by the top eight clubs being within four points of one another.
On the continental level, Argentina had two quarterfinalists at the 2013 Copa Libertadores, Boca Juniors and Newell’s Old Boys, who played each other in the final eight with Newell’s Old Boys coming out on top.
6. Liga MX
Goals Per Game: 1.23
Red Cards Per Game: 0.10
Continental Wins: 19
Point Differential: 26
Since the latest edition of the Mexican Clausura just began a few weeks ago, we decided to examine the Apertura season to give the North American league a fair shake in this discussion.
In the 18-team Apertura, three teams, America, Santos Laguna and Toluca, all scored over 30 goals in just 17 games.
The one unique thing about Liga MX is that they have teams compete in both the Copa Libertadores and the CONCACAF Champions League.
In the Copa Libertadores, two sides advanced to the group stage with Tijuana going all the way to the quarterfinals before being knocked out by Atletico Mineiro.
In the CONCACAF Champions League, three Mexican sides are in the quarterfinal stage by way of winning their respective groups in dominant fashion.
Goals Per Game: 1.71
Red Cards Per Game: 0.13
Continental Wins: 7
Point Differential: 22
Believe it or not, the Dutch top flight came in first in two statistical categories: goals per game and point differential.
While the Dutch certainly have an entertainment factor to their domestic football, they also have some volatility in it too as they had the second-highest red cards per game of the 10 leagues on the list.
The one major downfall of the Dutch league is that it fails to translate on the European level as they have just two teams left in continental competition in Ajax and AZ, both of whom are in the Europa League.
Had the Dutch teams been able to handle their own in Europe, they may have sneaked into the top three, or even higher.
4. Ukrainian Premier League
Goals Per Game: 1.26
Red Cards Per Game: 0.04
Continental Wins: 12
Point Differential: 33
You may be surprised at first when seeing the Ukrainian Premier League this high on the list, but after a deep look, they do have a strong and enjoyable domestic league based on the stats.
The average of 1.26 goals per game played was right in the middle of the pack when judging the 10 leagues on the list, but what really stuck out was the discipline of all 16 clubs in the Eastern European league.
Only 11 red cards have been handed out this season in Ukraine, which is the lowest amount across all leagues that were evaluated.
Another thing that stands out about Ukrainian football is that their teams do put up a good showing in Europe as represented by their 12 wins on the continental level this season.
While Shakhtar Donetsk did not star in the UEFA Champions League, Chornomorets Odesa, Dynamo Kyiv and Dnipro all finished second in their respective groups in the UEFA Europa League.
All four of those clubs will enter the Europa League knockout stage in February with a good chance to advance far in the tournament.
3. La Liga
Goals Per Game: 1.45
Red Cards Per Game: 0.12
Continental Wins: 23
Point Differential: 39
Spain has long been known for being a two or three-club league, which is a factor that may have hurt them a little bit as the difference between the top three leagues was minimal.
The point differential from Atletico Madrid to Real Betis in the league table is 39, while the gap between first and fourth place is 14.
Scoring goals is no issue for the top three clubs in the league, who average between 2.5 and 2.7 goals per game, but there is a problem when it comes to scoring at the bottom of the table, which explains the league average of 1.45 goals per game.
The one positive that the top three of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid bring to the table here is their continental wins, which total 14 between the trio.
Valencia and Sevilla also won their group titles in the Europa League, making La Liga a big-time threat in the knockout rounds of both competitions, a quality that helped them earn this third-place ranking.
Goals Per Game: 1.59
Red Cards Per Game: 0.11
Continental Wins: 21
Point Differential: 33
The difference between second and third was marginal, but the Bundesliga did beat out La Liga on a few statistics.
Right away, the first stat that the Bundesliga has a strong advantage in is goals per game, a number that is not held down by the bottom half of the table in Germany.
All but three clubs in Germany have scored over 20 goals this season. The three teams that have failed to score that many are all in the relegation zone.
At the European level, the Germans may have two fewer wins than the Spanish, but they also have one less team in the two continental competitions.
Both Bayern Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt contributed five wins in Europe while Borussia Dortmund handed the Germans four wins and three each were delivered by Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke. Despite being eliminated in the Europa League, Freiburg brought home an European win as well.
The point differential also played in favor of the Germans despite having two fewer teams in their domestic league.
If you were to take away the bottom two in Spain from the table, the Germans would still have a better point differential, albeit by just one point.
1. English Premier League
Goals Per Game: 1.33
Red Cards Per Game: 0.06
Continental Wins: 26
Point Differential: 31
Based on the criteria laid out to determine the best statistical league in the world, the English Premier League has it all.
The EPL ranked fifth overall in goals per game, second in discipline, second in continental victories and fourth in point differential.
In all but one of those categories, the EPL triumphed over La Liga and the Bundesliga.
Domestically, the English are helped by a league with an enormous amount of parity as the gap between first and last is only 31 points.
If you dig deeper, 11 clubs are separated by six points at the bottom of the table, which means table fluctuation is normal in England.
Continentally, the English clubs packed a big punch with six clubs qualifying for the knockout rounds of the Champions League and Europa League.
The 26 wins spread across seven clubs presented us with the best wins-per-team average in Europe at 3.71, which was 0.21 higher than the Bundesliga and 0.43 more than La Liga.
The idea is to look at every match played in each league — in this case over the last five seasons — and explore how the strength of the teams involved interacts to determine both the standard of football on show, and the level of competition between the two sides. The same method has been used elsewhere including for the NFL by sport statistics specialists FiveThirtyEight.
The measure of strength used here is a team’s Elo rating, a score indicating its quality relative to all other teams, that is calculated after every round of matches and crucially adjusts for opposition strength, so when a favourite beats a weak side, fewer points move from loser to winner than is the case for a surprise win. These ratings, calculated by Lars Schiefler for ClubElo.com, are also adjusted on a country-by-country basis to take into account the underlying strength of each league.
And so onto the first of our metrics: the average rating of both teams in a match can be seen as an indicator of the absolute standard of football on show. In the chart below this in plotted on the horizontal axis. The very highest scores for this measure arise where two elite sides play each other, and the very lowest are matches between the weakest sides in the weakest leagues.
The second metric takes the difference between two teams’ ratings, and treats it as an indicator of how competitive a match is. The lower a match is on our vertical axis, the more unbalanced the teams involved. Home advantage is also brought in here, so if two sides’ ratings are exactly the same ahead of kick-off, the match will still be scored with a non-zero difference in ratings as a result of the home side’s natural benefit.
So what do we find? First let’s focus on our measure of the standard of football:
In news likely to surprise only the most blinkered of Premier League fans, if you want simply to watch world-class football, La Liga is the place to go. And we can be more specific than that: nine of the ten highest scoring matches for average rating are El Clasicos — the star-studded affairs between Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid. Aptly, the number one on our level-of-football measure was the 2-2 draw in October 2012 where the goals were shared between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. We also find that the Bundesliga out-guns its wealthier English counterpart here, with eight of the top 50 matches by this measure compared with just one for the Premier League.
But as we’ve discussed, there’s more to a great football match than the skill level of its participants, and it transpires that if you’ll take a small drop in absolute quality in order to watch a finely balanced contest, the Premier League comes into its own. Below we’ve highlighted the 50 highest quality matches based on both average quality and well-matched opponents.* While La Liga still fares well — its 27 matches beat the Premier League with 19 and Bundesliga with four — we can see that the English matches in this subset tend to be between more closely matched sides.
In fact the highest scoring Premier League contest by this measure was an undoubted classic: Liverpool’s 3-2 victory over erstwhile title rivals Manchester City lies in 21st place among the almost 10,000 league matches in our dataset when ranked by quality and level of competition combined. On the day, City recovered from a two goal half-time deficit only for Liverpool to snatch all three points.
While we’re at it, let’s take a look at the biggest mismatches below. Here we see the other side of La Liga’s super-club story. For every clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid, there are a fistful of mismatched encounters where the giants face lowly opposition. Of the 50 most uneven pairings in our 9,412 completed matches, 42 took place in La Liga, five in Germany (all featuring Bayern) two in Italy and one in France.
These mismatches also throw up some remarkable stories of resilience. Only last week Juventus were held to a 1-1 draw by minnows Frosinone, despite out-shooting them by 36 to 9. Explore the interactive graphic below to see scorelines and shotcounts from other memorable encounters.
But the occasional Frosinone aside, the vast majority of those mismatched games have gone the way we would expect. And while some followers of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus may have no complaints here — after all, watching your idols run rings around their opposition is hardly a negative experience — most football fans would surely admit that there’s something about a hard-fought win over a rival that no number of easy victories can match.
And this, perhaps, is also the Premier League’s greatest strength. The lower likelihood of a mismatch in England’s top flight is a double positive: fans of the big teams have more nail-biting encounters to look forward to, and followers of smaller clubs can travel to watch their side visit the heavyweights with genuine hope of coming away with a result.
So after all that, which league is the best? Below is an interactive version of the graphic, where you can define your own criteria and generate a unique selection of matches that satsify them.
Once you’ve decided how to rank matches, and how many to include, simply hit the highlight button, and then explore the results in the graphic and the table beneath it. Select a match in the table to highlight it in the chart.