Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Top of the Table: Five European Football Leagues and a Historical Premier League Race


America has its own sport that is the same only in name, but to the rest of the world, football is elegant, precise, and most importantly, actually played using one’s foot. Played and celebrated across multiple countries and continents, billions have dedicated themselves and their viewership to teams, tournaments, and leagues for centuries. While the world has experienced momentous and historic league competitions and each league is no stranger to its own contentious title races, the 2023–2024 season across Europe’s top five leagues is shaping up to be quite the spectacle.

England’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, and France’s Ligue 1 are the largest leagues with the richest history and level of play across Europe, producing world-class clubs, players, and matches. Each of these domestic leagues have pedigree, and over the years have developed distinct identities and strengths that encourage players and coaches bouncing between leagues to be adaptable and innovative in their roles. Italy is known for producing some of the world’s greatest defenders and goalkeepers, pioneering the “catenaccio” style of play, which emphasizes a rigid defensive structure. Spain, on the other hand, is known for its “tiki-taka” style, which is characterized by quick passing and dominating the midfield. Most often, a team’s identity is dependent on the manager and how they lead and organize their players.

The ownership, wealth, and fanbases of certain clubs have also created divides within and between the domestic leagues, distinguishing between so-called “big clubs” and “small clubs.” The Premier League is by far the wealthiest league in Europe, earning nearly €6 billion in revenue last season, three billion more than the next closest league, La Liga. This year has seen many of Europe’s largest and wealthiest falter and stumble, giving way for several “small clubs” to have a chance to achieve unprecedented success. Rarely is it possible for a club like Girona, a small city on the outskirts of Barcelona, to find themselves within reach of winning their first league title. The tempestuous campaigns for some of these “big clubs” have also given room for the most nail-biting Premier League finish in a decade.

In addition to league play, every year, leagues from across Europe send their top-placing clubs to meet in the Union of European Football Associations Champions League to compete for the most coveted trophy a club can earn: the UEFA Champions League trophy. With varying circumstances at the top of the points table between these five leagues, particularly involving the tense situation playing out in the English Premier League in light of Liverpool F.C. and Manchester City’s recent draws, viewers are left with the same question: who will emerge victorious?

With one of the most decisive title races currently, France’s Ligue 1 appears to have a clear victor. Ever since the Qatar Sports Investments purchased stock in Paris Saint-Germain in 2012, the club has been dominant in Ligue 1, winning all but two league titles since then. However, they have been unable to transfer their league form into Champions League success. They came close in the 2019–20 season, but were comfortably beaten by German champions Bayern Munich. This year looks no different, as PSG, 10 points ahead, looks to run away with their 12th Ligue 1 title. Brest, currently situated in second, contends with former league-winner Monaco for a runner-up finish.

The biggest news surrounding Germany’s Bundesliga was the summer transfer of world class English striker Harry Kane from Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur to Bayern Munich for a whopping $122 million. Tottenham has been without a major trophy since 1961, and Kane has been without a major trophy his entire career despite breaking English football records during his tenure at Spurs. After Kane’s transfer to Bayern — a team that has won the league title every consecutive year since the 2013–2014 season — Bayern is having one of its most turbulent campaigns to date as Bayer Leverkusen, a club without a Bundesliga trophy, is on an undefeated run and comfortably sits 10 points ahead of Bayern. This has led to the genesis of the “Harry Kane Curse,” which dictates that wherever the striker goes, trophies will not follow. Leverkusen’s success has seemingly brought this omen to life. However, Bayern does find itself in the last eight of the Champions League and could still mathematically overcome its 10-point deficit to Leverkusen. With only 11 league games left and fierce competition on the European stage, Bayern has a tough road ahead if it is to change its fate.

In Italy’s Serie A, the clear frontrunner for the title is Internazionale Milano. Both Milan clubs — city rivals AC Milan and Inter — are competing for their 20th league title. Towering 16 points above AC Milan in second with 10 games left to play, Inter look poised to win this race. The league leaders entered this season with a massive chip on their shoulder after making a superb run as dark horses last season to the final of the Champions League, narrowly losing to Manchester City despite outshooting them in the match. Currently boasting both the best offensive and the best defensive record of any team in the top five European leagues, the Italian outfit looked to make a deep run in Europe once again, but fell valiantly in penalties to Spanish club Atlético Madrid. On the other side of Inter’s success, last year’s Serie A winners Napoli have been mounting what is likely to be one of the worst title defenses in history, currently sitting in seventh and on their third coach of the season. Napoli’s fall from grace is exacerbated by the remarkable season of Bologna, who look set to qualify for Champions League football for the first time in the club’s history. Having massively over-achieved this season, they sit comfortably in 4th, being one of only three teams to hold league-leaders Inter to a draw this season.

Although Bologna’s impressive campaign cannot be understated, the biggest surprise in Europe this season is the story of Spanish underdogs Girona FC, who have spent the majority of the season leading La Liga despite playing in the Spanish second division just two seasons prior. Girona’s run is particularly notable considering that the La Liga title has historically been shared between giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, who hold 35 and 27 Spanish league trophies, respectively. Second to the English Premier League, La Liga has the closest title race at the moment with Madrid sitting at the top, five points above Girona and six ahead of Barcelona. If Girona manages to clinch the league within the final ten games of the season, their campaign will be heavily compared to Premier League side Leicester City’s incredible title-winning run in the 2015–2016 season, who likewise were playing second division football two seasons before their league win.

The Premier League separates itself from Europe’s other leagues this year, as each of the top five teams — namely the top three — are within reason to emerge as champions by the end of May with no decisive victor in sight. Since the 2011–2012 season, Manchester City has found overwhelming league success after having been bought by a United Arab Emirates royal in 2008 in a similar manner to PSG. Disrupting a league-winning streak of their city rivals Manchester United, City has won seven titles since 2012. Looking at the array of English champions outside of City’s dominance, there is no clear candidate for a second or third-best team. Chelsea, a decorated club that won the Champions League in 2021, currently sits in eleventh beneath Newcastle, a club that last won the title nearly a century ago. Arsenal, who has not seen a title in over twenty years, currently sits at the top and hopes to redeem their disappointing finish as runners up last campaign despite maintaining the lead for much of it.

The last time the Premier League witnessed a tight top-three race was the 2013–2014 season where Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea found themselves within mere points of one another as the season came to a close; ultimately, City walked away with the title, but not before cementing the race as one for the ages. What we have now, as of March 10, is yet another historic title race, further catalyzed by the Sunday afternoon stalemate between Liverpool and City.  Now tied at the top of the table sits Arsenal and Liverpool, with City just a point behind. The stakes for a Premier League title are especially high for Liverpool, as their beloved manager Jürgen Klopp will be retiring after a nine-year tenure and one-time title win with the club. City, having won the previous year’s Premier League and Champions League trophies under esteemed manager Pep Guardiola, also have great interest in defending their title and maintaining a winning streak.

Sunday’s game between two of England’s storied clubs was regarded as one of the most important fixtures of the season, with either side able to go top of the table. In an end-to-end game, Stones secured his first goal of the season for City before Mac Allister leveled the score with a penalty kick after Liverpool striker Nunez was fouled by City’s keeper. Even further, the fight for Champions League qualification is ever-present, as Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur both vie for the final spot. After fourth place Villa’s devastating 4–0 defeat to fifth-place Tottenham on Sunday, the North London club has the opportunity to overtake Villa as they have a two-point deficit with a game in hand. What is more, as both Villa and Tottenham have yet to play their second fixtures against Liverpool, City, and Arsenal, even more chaos may ensue amongst the top of the table if the outcomes of these matches skew in favor of either Villa or Tottenham. Manchester United, which had a rather shaky start to the season, is looking to climb to this position as well, currently sitting six points beneath Tottenham. There is a long and arduous road ahead for these clubs, as evidenced by the constant shake-ups, surprises, and successes at the top of the table.

With many of the European giants experiencing a turbulent season for various reasons, ranging from injury crises to upper management issues, there are more opportunities this year for smaller clubs, namely Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Bologna FC 1909, Girona, and Aston Villa F.C., to secure higher league placements than they typically would. While the Premier league presents the closest title race, determining a European frontrunner is not as straightforward as seasons past. The statistically best team is Inter, but the Milanese club’s struggles on the European stage in recent years — barring last year’s run to the final — have people skeptical over whether they would be able to compete with financially larger teams such as Real Madrid or Manchester City. Despite three of Europe’s top five leagues having their champions all but confirmed, there is still a bevy of potential upsets and surprises. With a single point difference and ten matches left in the Premier League and the semifinals of the Champions League confirmed with no clear favorite, it is all left to play for.

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