It is perhaps one of the oldest debates among European soccer fans, the existential question: which is the best league?
Today, the strongest contenders are the Premier League and La Liga. But which one of them is better?
Those who think the Premier League is the best say the level of competition in England is far stronger than the one in Spain, making it the better league. When Pep Guardiola was leading Barcelona to record breaking seasons in La Liga, and even when he did the same in Germany with Bayern Munich, Premier League fans were far from impressed. There is a great difference, they would say, between playing teams like Levante, Alaves or Getafe in Spain and playing teams of the same level in England such as Crystal Palace, Stoke City or Watford.
Well, it may be time for them to think again.
Never before has a team managed by Pep Guardiola been so dominant as Manchester City is right now. With the first half of the season in the Premier League now behind us, City have won 20 of their 22 league matches, the other two ended in a draw. This is a better record than Pep ever had in his four seasons as Barcelona manager or three years as Bayern Munich’s manager.
If you thought most of those 20 victories were narrow wins, think again. The Citizens beat Liverpool 5:0 and Tottenham 4:1, and these are two teams who see themselves as title contenders. Other wins included 7:2 over Stoke City, 6:0 while visiting Watford, 4:0 away to Swansea and 5:0 at home over Crystal Palace.
They lead the pack by far with 62 points and 64 goals scored, nearly three goals per match, and have understandably had the best start to a season in the Premier League. Guardiola was not even close to this type of dominance in any of his seasons in La Liga or the Bundesliga. Does that mean his English competition is weaker?
While this is a strong argument for those who view the Spanish league as the strongest one, there is another point which actually may play to the hands of those who think the English league should be awarded that title.
European success is the biggest argument coming from La Liga fans, and rightfully so. Real Madrid or Barcelona won the Champions League title for the past four seasons, at the same time, Sevilla made the Europa League title private property by winning it three times in a row. But after years of Spanish domination and poor English performances this may be the transition season, especially in the Champions League.
Five Premier League teams played in the group stage of the Champions League this season, all of them qualified to the second stage. With the relatively comfortable draw they got for the Round of 16, three of them are now favorites to qualify to the quarterfinal, and it will not be a major shock to see all five English clubs among the final eight.
While this is happening, Atletico Madrid have been relegated to the Europa League following a slow performance in the group stage. The two super giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, are facing a tough challenge in the Round of 16, the Merenges will tackle Neymar and PSG while the Blaugrana will take on Chelsea.
The big question in this sense is how will the Premier League clubs perform in the European arena following the Christmas frenzy. Their slow European performance in recent years has been blamed on the fatigue they face because they play through the Christmas and New Year’s period while other leagues are resting. We have to be quite skeptical of that. Christmas frenzy was also taking place in the eight years beginning in the 2004-2005 season, all the way to the 2011-2012 one. In all but one of those seasons at least one English team made it to the final. The busy Christmas schedule did not stop Chelsea or Manchester United who played an all-English Final in 2008.
This shows that the holiday season is not necessary what’s prevented their success in recent years, but their own level of play, and that of their competitors from Spain, Germany, and Italy, did. If Premier League teams will be back to putting a strong trademark in the European competition, it will surely give their fans a good reason to claim their league is the best.
As is always the case in these kind of arguments, it is practically impossible for one side to convince the other. Those supporting La Liga will keep on saying that there is nothing bigger than the Clasico while Premier League fans will keep on claiming the big names and economic superiority makes it the better one.
The truth is, it does not really matter, at least for us, as long as we have the privilege of enjoying them both.
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