Comparing the top five European football leagues is one of those discussion points that rears its head every few months.
It’s a timeless topic, an area that can provoke debate and frustrate. In many ways it is subjective, and those who favour one league over another (for whatever reason) obviously bring their own chunk of bias to the table.
The ‘strength’ of each league is not a straight forward evaluation. European performance is often used, but the unpredictability of knockout football makes that imperfect.
European Football's Top Leagues:
Not to mention, that is putting the league’s best against Europe’s best – which does not tell us the overall strength of the Premier League or Bundesliga. For instance, Arsenal losing to Schalke doesn’t mean that West Ham are worse than Hertha Berlin.
Some are more favoured in online football betting. Some leagues are richer than others.
That’s not what we’re looking at here, though. A combination of standard and competitiveness will define these rankings of the top five European leagues…
The French top flight isn’t the only one that has been dominated by a superpower in the 2010s.
Paris Saint-Germain, winning seven of the last eight Ligue 1 titles, have had a slip up where others haven’t, but the margin of victory for the nouveau riche in the capital is most alarming.
They had it sewn up when the league was suspended this year. They won by 16 points in 2018/19 and while it seemed closer in 2017/18, it was all but over with months to spare.
PSG’s dominance on the pitch is replicated in the transfer market. They are one of the richest clubs in the world, and Lyon (who have finished in the top three on five occasions in the last eight seasons) are barely in the top 20.
If we use the Champions League as a means to evaluate France’s strongest teams, it doesn’t look great either. No French team made the quarters last season, the scenario was the same the year before that.
Monaco’s run to the semis in 2017 was the last time a Ligue 1 team came close to winning the competition, but their team was promptly picked apart by wealthier clubs.
Ligue 1 has produced some of the world’s best talents. There are some wonderful players up and down the league, but it’s comfortably fifth in these rankings.
One of the aforementioned teams who have owned the league title even more so than PSG, Juventus have won eight Scudetti in a row.
They faced one of their tougher title races in 2019/20, but they look set to make it nine under Maurizio Sarri.
While Italian domestic football is generally considered stronger than in France, and Juventus have been more of a threat in the Champions League than PSG, the majority of the last decade presents a similar picture.
The two Milan giants have been in the doldrums for much of that time. Juventus through a combination of bargain and blockbuster signings have constructed a squad far clear of the chasing pack.
Roma’s run to the Champions League semis a couple of years ago was similar to Monaco’s, an anomaly rather than a serious run towards the trophy.
We have to go back to 2011/12 to find the last non-Juve team to make the quarters prior to Roma’s run.
It’s a long time since Serie A was the top league in the world. The nostalgia perhaps leads some to overrate it, and the promise of these big-name clubs returning to the forefront of European football is a lure.
For a long time now, though, it has been a one-team league at the top. Stronger depth than Ligue 1 earns it fourth here.
It’s eight in a row for Bayern, just like Juventus.
Borussia Dortmund have finished as runners up in five of those campaigns, following on from their two titles at the start of the 2010s.
Despite a run of four different champions in five seasons at the end of the noughties, the rise of RB Leipzig and a group of teams finishing in the top four over the last eight years, it has been all about Bayern in recent memory even when there’s seemed to be a title race.
Schalke, Monchengladbach, Wolfsburg, Leipzig, Hoffenheim and Leverkusen have all finished in the top three in the last six seasons.
Wolfsburg were Champions League quarter finalists in 2015, Schalke pushed Real Madrid hard in the last 16 the season prior.
The monopoly argument can be thrown at the Bundesliga just as it can with Ligue 1 and Serie A.
The teams just behind Bayern are perhaps closer, and likely stronger than their counterparts in France and Italy. It seems like a generally deeper league.
Where it has been quality all the way down the table that split the previous three, it’s all about peak performance in Spain.
Cristiano Ronaldo may no longer be there, but with Lionel Messi, Eden Hazard, Luka Modric, Jan Oblak, Luis Suarez and many more, La Liga is home to many of the world’s very best.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are always among the betting favourites for the Champions League. Atletico Madrid are never far off either.
La Liga has benefited from Diego Simeone’s Atletico. They won a title, they are a constant thorn in the side of the two that have a near-permanent duopoly on the top of the Spanish game.
You have to go all the way back to 2011/12 to find the last time someone other than those three finished in the top three, and while that’s not great, La Liga hasn’t experienced the same continued dominance of one team at the top.
There were two all-Spanish finals in the 2010s and, led by Real Madrid, Spanish sides won six out of eight Champions League finals.
The mid-table in Spain might not be as strong as the comparable teams in other countries (or that’s the common perception), but the quality at the top is enough to get them second here.
The 2010s wasn’t a great decade for the Premier League on the European stage.
The wane of Manchester United, changes at Manchester City and general turmoil at Chelsea saw a much weaker effort in continental action after English clubs were the main force in the late-noughties.
That has begun to change, however, with an all-English final in 2019 coming 12 months after Liverpool became the first English team since 2012 to make the final.
Instability at the bigger clubs, the fact that there are more teams who can seriously compete in the transfer market, has led the Premier League to produce a greater variety of title winners.
The last five seasons have delivered four different champions. Chelsea, Leicester Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool have all been in and out of the top three.
The inconsistency and occasional turmoil that has hampered the Premier League from delivering in the Champions League has also meant more change in the European spots.
Being the most-watched league in the world means a lot more revenue.
The way that revenue is shared in the Premier League gives greater financial muscle to the mid-table and below teams, who can compete for signings that their supposed peers in France or Italy could not.
The talent on the non-European competing teams in the Premier League has increased significantly in the last few years. That, as much as the resurgence in continental competition, puts the Premier League top of the pile.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to Manu Fernandez / AP Photo*