There is often debate regarding which is the best league in Europe, with the quality of players, the performance of the league’s clubs in Europe, and the excitement of the league all factoring in. Something which contributes to the excitement of the league is how hotly-contested it is, with regard to the title race, the relegation battle and the gulf between the league’s best and worst teams, for example. So which was the closest of Europe’s big five leagues last season?
The title race and competition for European football
The Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga were all dominated by one team last season, as Manchester City, Barcelona, PSG and Bayern Munich all won the league by significant margins. Bayern Munich finished the season 21 points clear of second-place Schalke, Man City finished 19 points clear of Man United in second, Barcelona finished 14 points ahead of second-placed Atletico, and PSG finished 13 points clear of Monaco in second. However, Serie A was much more exciting and tightly-contested at the top as Juventus finished just 4 points ahead of Napoli in second. The Italian title race was by far the most compelling of the big five leagues, with Napoli’s 1-0 win over Juventus on matchday 34 setting up for a nail-biting end to the season.
Serie A also had an enthralling battle for the European places last season with the fourth and final Champions League spot being decided in a last day encounter between Lazio and Inter Milan. Inter won the match 3-2, putting them level on points with Lazio, but giving them the superior head-to-head record, which meant that they finished ahead of I Biancocelesti. Despite having the least exciting title race, the Bundesliga had a much closer battle for the European places.
Third-placed Hoffenheim, fourth-placed Borussia Dortmund and fifth-placed Bayer Leverkusen each finished on 55 points, and so the Champions League places were decided on goal difference, with Leverkusen’s 14 falling just short of Dortmund’s 17 and Hoffenheim’s 18. Ligue 1 was similarly close, as Marseille missed out on a Champions League place by a single point, whilst Nice also missed out on the Europa League by a point. The Premier League was less close, with Chelsea and Everton both missing out on Champions League and Europa league places respectively by 5 points. However, the least exciting competition for European places was in Spain, as 5th-placed Villareal finished 12 points behind Valencia in the fourth and final Champions League spot.
The relegation battle
La Liga’s relegation battle was also the least exciting out of Europe’s big five leagues, as 17th-placed Leganes finished a staggering 14 points ahead of 18th-placed Deportivo La Coruna. The Premier League, Serie A and Ligue 1 relegation battles were equally close, as 17th-placed Southampton and SPAL both finished 3 points ahead of 18th-placed Swansea and Crotone in England and Italy, whilst 14th and 15th-placed Mainz and Freiburg both finished 3 points ahead of 16th-placed Wolfsburg in the relegation play-off spot in Germany. However, Ligue 1 had the most exciting relegation scrap as 15th-placed Strasbourg, 16th-placed Caen and 17th-placed Lille all finished just one point ahead of Toulouse in 18th.
The gulf between the best and worst teams in the league
Aside from the various mini leagues across the table, the overall gulf between the best and worst teams also demonstrates how close the leagues were last season. The simplest way to determine the gulf between the teams in the league is to look at the points difference between the top and bottom team in the league. In the Bundesliga, 62 points separated first from last; in Ligue 1 it was 67 points; in the Premier League it was 69 points; in La Liga it was 73; in Serie A it was 74. Furthermore, it is important to look at the mid-table teams to judge how close the leagues were, as the leagues do not solely consist of top teams and strugglers. A simple way to determine how close the mid-table teams were to each other is to look at the points difference between the team that finished just outside of the European places and the team that finished just above the relegation zone. In La Liga, this points difference was 12 points, in the Premier League it was 13, in the Bundesliga it was 15, in Ligue 1 it was 17 and in Serie A it was 18.
The overall closest
Looking at the mini leagues across the table, Serie A appears the most closely-contested. It had by far the closest title race, as well as hotly-contested battles for European places and to avoid relegation. However, the gulf between the teams in Serie A was massive, with 74 points between first and last, and 18 points between 8th and 17th. Meanwhile, the Bundesliga’s title race was the least exciting, but the competition to avoid relegation and to finish in European places was tight, and only 5 points separated third-placed Hoffenheim, in a Champions League spot, from 8th placed Frankfurt, outside of the Europa League places. Moreover, the Bundesliga had the smallest gulf between the top and bottom team in the league, and a more tightly contested mid-table than Serie A. Therefore, with all of the factors considered, the Bundesliga was the most closely-contested of Europe’s big five leagues last season.