Most Competitive League in Europe

One in eight thousand

Saturday saw Aston Villa face Fulham FC in what is widely regarded as the most valuable game in world football – the winners of the Championship play off can look forward to the next season in the Premier League, a season worth circa £170 million, a sum far eclipsing the prize money of any other competition.

The above is easy to quantify, less so is the assertion that the English Championship is the hardest to gain promotion from, the most competitive league in Europe, although many will make this claim.

So which is the most competitive league in Europe?

Before we can answer that question, we have to determine how we can answer that question.

My solution (of course!) is to employ some maths – let the numbers do the talking.

Standard Deviation is a measure spread, a measure of how close to the mean (average) the data is spread.  A low standard deviation tells us that the data is closely clustered around the mean, whilst a high standard deviation tells us that the data is spread out around a wide range of values.

I calculated the standard deviation for fifteen different European leagues, and compared the standard deviations of the points each team gained in the season. The leagues with a lower standard deviation, I concluded, were more competitive than those with a higher standard deviation.  A lower standard deviation means that the points for each team were closer to the mean, suggesting that the clubs in that league were more matched, and therefore the league more competitive than those leagues with a high standard deviation.

68 95 99

68, 95, 99 – no, not the years that Spurs won the cup, but a handy rule of thumb, sometimes known as the 68-95-99.7 rule (or three sigma rule if you want to sound clever).  What it tells us is that for a normal distribution (or bell curve, and we can expect points scored in a league to be of this form) 68% of data points (points gained in our example) lie within one standard deviation (in either direction, above or below) the mean, 95% lie within two standard deviations and 99.7% (or nearly all) results lie within three standard deviations of the mean.

And the winner is …

So after all this maths, which league is the most competitive? Is it the English Championship as so many pundits would have you believe?

No, the most competitive league in Europe is the Russian Premier League, with a standard deviation of 13.3, closely followed by the Bundesliga with a standard deviation of 14.0.

The English Championship is not as competitive as the two divisions below it, although it is more competitive that the English Premier League it feeds into.

And it seems that the Bundesliga is bucking the trend – the other “big” European leagues have the higher standard deviations, suggesting that they are less competitive, with Italy’s Serie A coming bottom with a standard deviation of 20.6.

League of leagues

So here is my league of leagues, based on standard deviation, the most competitive at the top, least at the bottom:

League Standard Deviation
Russian Premier League 13.3
Bundesliga (Germany) 14.0
League 2 (England) 15.1
League 1 (England) 15.3
Greek Super League 15.8
Scottish Divison 1 16.8
Championship (England) 17.1
Dutch Eridivise 17.4
Ligue 1 (France) 17.6
Scottish Premier 17.6
Scottish Divison 2 17.7
La Liga (Spain) 18.2
Premier League (England) 19.2
Portugues Liga 19.3
Serie A (Italy) 20.6


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  1. joy
    Posted 30/05/2018 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Great maths, thank you, but totally irrelevant for a Fulham fan

    • A Maths Teacher
      Posted 30/05/2018 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Delighted for all you Fulham fans, a welcome return to the top flight. You will be playing in a less competitive league next season, but don’t confuse competitive with harder. What the maths suggests is that you will find a greater range of ability amongst your opponents in the Premier League than you did in the Championship.

  2. Jack365
    Posted 05/06/2018 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    There is hope for the might Swans to return to the premiership after all next year with our new manager Graham ‘Harry’ Potter. I never knew Maths was so interesting!

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