I keep having the same argument with a friend of mine, Maddie, over whether the Premier League or La Liga is the best soccer league in the world. She thinks that the Premier League is better, arguing that the race for the title is more thrilling and competitive, whereas La Liga is just a snoozefest of Barcelona and Real Madrid passing the title between each other. She believes that the competition between “the top 6” of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool is what makes the Premier League (PL) better. My take, however, is that La Liga is by a country mile the superior league. I believe that the average La Liga team is better than the average PL team, and that the actual quality of the league is what makes it the best.
Full disclosure: Maddie studied abroad in London, and I studied abroad in Madrid. I don’t think either of us would claim to be making impartial arguments in favor of one league or the other.
We can never quite reach a conclusion to our argument. (Granted, I’m usually the one to bring it back up, much to her resigned annoyance) Much of this is due to the fact that we get sidetracked with semantical topics like how “competitive” the PL actually is and can never move beyond to discussing the core of it. Should we define a league based on the level of entertainment it provides neutral fans? Or should we define a league based on the quality of its participants?
For starters, Maddie and I both agree that the PL is, on average, a superior product for viewers. The marketing, accessibility and production value for the average PL game is above that of an average La Liga game. There are a lot more casual fans who will tune in to watch a game between Cardiff and Bournemouth than there are who will view Leganes and Valladolid, simply because the Cardiff game will be on NBC Sports, whereas the Leganes game might be available on beIN Sports. Some fans might even tune in to the Leganes game for five minutes and promptly leave upon hearing the siren song of Ray Hudson’s warbling, instead retreating to the soothing comfort of Robbie Mustoe.
There also isn’t as much suspense in La Liga as in the PL. Barcelona has won seven of the last ten years. When Barcelona falters, the other heavyweight of Spanish soccer, Real Madrid, has been there to clean up. On the other hand, at the start of each PL season, there is a sense of possibility that any one of the top six could realistically win the league. There is an appearance, at least, of parity.
In terms of the quality of the teams, however, La Liga reigns supreme. Part of the reason that La Liga is so apparently top-heavy is because Barcelona and Real Madrid’s are two of the best five teams in Europe. On top of that, Atlético Madrid, a local rival to Real—and another, more recent, juggernaut of Spanish soccer—also belongs in that top five. Each one of these clubs has demonstrative claims to being Europe’s best, exhibited by their performances in the prestigious Champions League. Barcelona and Real Madrid combined to win seven of the last ten titles (Barcelona 3, Real Madrid 4), and Atlético Madrid has made two finalist appearances and won the Europa League, Europe’s second largest cup, three times in the last decade. Over the same ten years, only one PL side has won the Champions League (Chelsea), and two have won the Europa League (Chelsea, Manchester United). On top of all that, Sevilla, another Spanish club, won the Europa League three times in a row, from 2014 to 2016.
Perhaps a comparison of managers who have worked in both leagues can provide the answer. Take a look at Manchester City. Their dominance throughout last year owes primarily to the brilliance of their manager, Pep Guardiola. The sanguine, mesmerizing displays of passing that City regularly deployed to break opposition last year have their roots in Barcelona, Guardiola’s home as a player and manager. Having reached the highest heights in the soccer world at Barcelona, Guardiola traversed to Bayern Munich for a few seasons before arriving in Manchester. Some hold his record-setting season in 2017-18 as vindication for the superiority of the Spanish league.
One of those records that Pep broke was the most points in a season—a mark previously held by “the Chosen One” Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side in the 2004-2005 season. Following this success, however, Mourinho migrated to La Liga and Real Madrid in 2010, after a stint with Inter Milan. Once there, in his second season, just like Guardiola, Mourinho led Madrid to a record-setting league title. The record? Most points in a season, with 100, beating out Guardiola’s Barcelona side. May the argument never end!