Europe’s Professional Football Leagues: A Layman’s Guide

Despite the fact that soccer has often be thought of as a British game, Europe has certainly caught football fever far beyond the English Channel. With the likes of France, Germany, Spain and Italy all having their own major professional football leagues, keeping up with which is which and what you can expect from the teams and the players is a struggle for more casual fans. Whether you’re looking for a quick overview or you’re looking to get involved with European soccer, we’re taking it back to basics and exploring Europe’s best leagues, below.

Premier League

The Premier League first formed in 1992 when 20 of England’s best teams came together to play a league of their own. With the top four teams qualifying for the UEFA Championships and the fifth qualifying for the UEFA Europa League, it remains the most important domestic league in the UK. From the introduction of World Cup goalscorer Harry Kane to the fame of Newcastle’s investment in Michael Owen, the Premier League has seen its fair share of highlights and remains one of the most watched leagues in all of Europe to date.

Ligue 1

Ligue 1, also known as ‘League 1’, is France’s answer to the Premier League. In fact, it even works on the same 20-club promotion and relegation system as the aforementioned British offering. Teams will play 38 matches each, split between home and away matches in a face -to-face in the leading football competition in the country. Ligue 1 has provided us with the successful AS Saint-Etienne, and Paris Saint-Germain, current league champions.

La Liga

As one of the top leagues in Europe, La Liga has attracted millions of viewers from all over the globe. With the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid dominating the league table on a regular basis whilst showcasing extraordinary skill, it’s easy to get caught up in the Spanish alternative to the Premier League. Even shock losers Betis aren’t to be ignored, with the potential to soar through the rankings with a few good goals on their belt.

Bundesliga

Bundesliga is the German equivalent to the other domestic leagues on this list and features some of the best teams Europe has on offer. From Dortmund to RB Leipzig, the Bundesliga has offered the Europa league some star teams worthy of a place amongst the ranks. This season’s champions are currently Bayern, but Wolfsburg and Hertha certainly aren’t far behind. The league even has one of the highest stadium attendance records worldwide, a worthy title to hold considering that football has quickly become a TV-based sport for most.

Serie A

Serie A is the Italian equivalent of the aforementioned leagues, playing in a round-robin format against one another twice. Serie A has seen format changes aplenty, with the league switching between 18 clubs in 1929-1934, through to 16 in 1934, 20 in 1946, 21 in 1947, 20 in 1948, 18 in 1952, 16 in 1967, 18 in 1988 and finally, 20 in 2004 which is the state it remains in to this day. The table leaders Juventus have dominated the league with 34 titles to their name and with the recent signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, it is clear that Juventus will continue to dominate the league for years to come.

Despite being the domestic leagues, the Premier League, Ligue 1, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga offer millions of fans some nail-biting gameplay every single year. Patching up the time between the UEFA Championships and the UEFA Europa League, domestic football gives local fans the chance to stand behind their favourite teams and players and cheer them all the way to victory for the chance to get their hands on European championship cups. Which will you watch?

Arsenal v City – More than just an Opening Day Blockbuster

Even though it has been several weeks since the release of the fixture list, the gravity of some opening day fixtures is not lost on anyone. It seems somewhat fitting that – albeit alphabetically – Arsenal vs. Manchester City should stand proudly atop the list.

 

City to ruin Emery debut

Despite Arsenal having home advantage, with an atmosphere bolstered by the presence of Unai Emery on the touchline, City are odds-on, or at least at evens, across the board to take the points. In one case, the champions are a mere 13/2 to beat Arsenal by at least three goals.

With Manchester City also having ‘trophy specials’ prior to 2018/19, there are no prizes for guessing which team the bookmakers have their own money on.

Unquestionably, from a betting perspective, this match will be the main draw of 2018/19’s opening weekend, especially those that want to use a free bet calculator after including the match in an accumulator. The match will mark the twentieth time that Arsenal FC has opened a Premier League (PL) season on North London turf.

Goals galore at the Grove?

Openers at Arsenal seldom want for goals, and with an outcome yielding over 2.5 goals odds-on across the board, this could easily be a classic. Only one of the nineteen Highbury/Emirates PL openers to date has produced a 0-0 draw; namely, when the Gunners hosted Sunderland in 2012.

A repeat of that 0-0 scoreline, between Arsenal and City, is priced at an average of 352/25 in current correct score markets. By contrast, three or more goals will see Arsenal become the first Premier League club to host over 100 opening day goals.

Though Arsenal F.C has been granted an extraordinary number of home openers in the PL era, it has not always gone to plan for the Gunners.

The Manchester City of 2018 is an entirely different entity from what it once was but, for what it is worth, this is the second time the fixture computer has fated City to open at Arsenal in the PL era. The first occasion was in 1994 when Arsenal strolled to a 3-0 win against a club about to embark on a Lucifer-esque fall from grace through the leagues.

With the tally currently at 97, the average per game is 5.10. An aggregate score involving seven or more goals will also make it the third season in succession that the Emirates has seen such a goalfest unfold – unheard of in the age of offside and (now) VAR!

Curse of the champions – a new phenomenon

Despite finishing 2017/18 with 100 points, Pep Guardiola’s nigh-unplayable Manchester City squad has plenty of reason to be wary. The reigning PL champions from a previous season have now lost in successive years for the first time ever. Indeed, it was not until 2016 that any champion (Leicester) lost a PL opener.

A failure for City to win will make it four years in a row that a reigning champion has failed to win an opener, with three already a record in any case. Regardless of the newly-impoverished record of reigning champions on the opening day, the club is on a run of seven straight opening day wins.

Pep Guardiola can also take encouragement from City’s recent PL record in away openers under the Khaldoon Al Mubarak regime.

City squads have scored twice as many (10) as they have conceded (5) on away openers during that time. If the 4-2 away defeat to Aston Villa (August 2008) is taken out of the equation, City squads have conceded just 0.2 goals per opening day road trip since 2009.

The 5 Best Squads Ever to Play in the Premier League

There can be no denying Manchester City were the deserved winners of the 2017/18 Premier League title.  Not only did they win the league, they did it in style, playing some fantastic football and ending the season on 100 points.

Pep Guardiola’s team finished with 106 goals to their name, 19 points ahead of 2nd placed Manchester United and with 22 more points than Liverpool, who have been praised this season for their excellent attacking play.  Not only that, Manchester City conceded fewer goals than any other team in the Premier League, finishing with a plus 79 goal difference.

Therefore, it is little wonder many fans of football, including the contributors of this recent article on the Betway blog, have lauded the 2017/18 Manchester City team as being up there with the best we have seen since the league was formed in 1992.

Statistically speaking, the newly crowned Premier League champions certainly seem to be the best ever to play in the league.  They won more points, scored more goals, had the best goal difference, won by the greatest margin and picked up the most wins of any title winning team to date.

Yes, this was a manager and group of players put together at huge cost but throwing money at a team does not guarantee success and the way Manchester City have played this season has been superb.

 

 

However, they have lost games, including a defeat at Anfield against Liverpool and at home to local rivals Manchester United.  This is perhaps their one main failing of the season and why the Arsenal team of 2003/04 is regarded by many as being the best to every play in the Premier League.

That was the only time since the turn of the 19th century a team has gone the whole season without tasting defeat.  The defence must take huge credit as this is where many long undefeated runs are based but Arsenal were an incredible attacking force, with Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp forging a great partnership up-front.  Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg also had major roles to play from wide midfield and Sol Campbell was the key man at the back.

To go a full Premier League season unbeaten, along with other commitments in the domestic cups and Europe, is a phenomenal achievement and one we may not see again for a very long time.

When assessing Manchester City’s point haul for this season, one cannot help but look back at the Chelsea squad of 2004/05.  This was Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge at Stamford Bridge and the defensive quality of the team was astounding as they went on to set the record for the highest points total of 95 prior to the 100 achieved by Manchester City this season.

Claude Makelele was the fulcrum of this team and allowed the forwards to break with freedom while providing cover to the defence when necessary. Chelsea conceded only 15 goals in winning the title that season, keeping 25 clean sheets in the process.  For those who enjoy the defensive side of the game, this Chelsea team was a masterclass.

When discussing the 5 best squads to every play in the Premier League, it is impossible to ignore Manchester United.  The Red Devils tasted great success under Sir Alex Ferguson and two squads in particular come to mind, starting with the 2007/08 team.

This is a team who had a bit of everything, a top goalkeeper in Edwin van der Sar, the central defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic plus Paul Scholes, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez further forward.

Ferguson came into his own with his tactical brilliance throughout the season and while Manchester United only finished 2 points clear of Chelsea, they went on to lift the Champions League.

Finally, we come to the 1998/99 Manchester United squad who swept all before them at home and abroad.  They finished above Arsenal to win the Premier League title on the final day of the season, coming from a goal behind to defeat Tottenham 2-1 on the final day of the campaign.  A 2-1 win over Newcastle United in the FA Cup followed before the dramatic injury time victory over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.

It was the first time in history an English team had completed the treble and with the level of competition so high in the Premier League and Champions League now, we may never see the likes of it again.

Chelsea fans may feel they have another squad who should be included in the list and Leicester City produced the biggest upset we have seen in years to win the title in 2016/16.  However, the 5 squads mentioned above must be considered the best ever to play in the Premier League.

All not Necessarily Lost for West Brom in Relegation Battle

The Premier League needs a final day relegation battle as it needs it for a dramatic narrative. Only fans of the sides involved are interested in what happens at the top of the table but the relegation battle is a soap opera that nearly always has its final meaningful act on the last day. It would be a shame if it didn’t this year.

Maybe, as a storyline, the Premier League will stagger over the end-line in bland fashion. The alternative though, is that potentially eight teams could still be in the mix for one final Battle Royale.

West Bromwich Albion’s recent victory over Manchester United has fueled hope of this being a possibility. With Alan Pardew parting ways with the club and seemingly ending his cycle of Premier League jobs, the Midlands club looked dead and at least half-buried. But their 1-0 win has given them a bounce and if ever there was a time to build on genuine momentum, it is now.

Next season could see the return of Tony Mowbray back at The Hawthorns. Currently proving something of a success at League One side Blackburn Rovers, Mowbray has grown as a manager since leaving the club following relegation in 2009. Fondly regarded, he could see his return to the club as a Premier League club, if things continue to make a dramatic turn for the better.

Image Credit: Facebook Coventry City FC 

The more likely scenario is that, if the former Celtic player and manager does return, it will be with the team plying their trade in the Championship.

West Brom’s remaining games will see them as unlikely to be favourites with the likes of Sportsbet based on the calibre of their opposition. If there is a game where they might see themselves as in with a chance of winning, it would be on the last day of the season in a potential crunch meeting with Crystal Palace but caretaker manager Darren Moore has his work cut out for him before that fixture.

The visit of Liverpool sees a team in unforgiving form in front of goal. However, Jurgen Klopp’s side have their Champion’s League run as a considerable distraction. An aggressive approach against Liverpool with caution thrown to the wind in attack, whilst remaining stoic in defence as they did at Old Trafford, is a must.

Image Credit: Facebook Bits N Sports Chat

If not, it will be an invitation for Liverpool to impose more of their adroit attacking game. With more to lose, West Brom will need to take bigger risks. The same is to be said for the visit to Newcastle. Rafa Benitez’s side secured their top-flight status in their recent 2-1 win over Arsenal. Regardless of their public statements of intent, this will be a very good time for the Baggies to play them.

How good a time though it is to face Tottenham Hotspur though, is another thing. Whilst Champions League football next season is practically sealed, the difference between third and fourth place is relevant, such is the way the qualifying process works. Mauricio Pochettino can still eye second place as a possibility and it’s unlikely his side will take their foot off the gas for the visit of West Brom.

Whether all is lost by the time they visit Palace, remains to be seen. The fact is though, hope remains and this season’s relegation battle may have one last piece of genuine drama.

Relegation riot: who will be playing Championship football next season?

While the battle for the Premier League title usually grabs the imagination of football fans, it is often the case that the fight to avoid relegation is equally compelling.

This year’s relegation fight promises to be particularly fascinating. Usually, the tussle at the bottom involves perhaps six or seven teams, but this time around, we can make a plausible case for as many as 12 sides to end up in the Championship. Part of the reason for this is the increasing dominance of the big teams. Over the last few seasons, the typical Big Four of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea has expanded to include Liverpool and Tottenham, and these six are engaged in what is almost a separate league.

In the current season, Manchester City have been hoovering up all of the points on offer, while the chasing five have done their best to keep pace, and in the absence of one or two clearly inferior teams, the remaining points have been shared out more or less equally among the bottom 12. With 11 games to go, the gap between Watford in 11th and West Brom at the bottom is just ten points. How will this relegation battle develop? Here, we take a look at the main candidates to drop into the Championship.

 

The favourites

West Brom began the season with a couple of wins, but a run of six defeats in ten games saw the club act to remove manager Tony Pulis and replace him with Alan Pardew. Results, however, have not improved, and Albion’s problem is that they’ve already called on two men renowned for saving clubs from relegation – Pulis and Roy Hodgson. Meanwhile, they have continued to find goals hard to come by. In a typical year, they might be down already.

If anything is going to save West Brom, it could be the ineptitude of their rivals, the closest of which is another former Pulis side – Stoke City. Like Albion, the Potters pulled the plug on the incumbent manager, but Paul Lambert has not proven much more successful than Mark Hughes, though he has managed to make them a little stronger defensively. One thing in Stoke’s favour is that they have enough winnable fixtures remaining to survive.

If Stoke’s combative defensiveness under Lambert gives them a chance, the same cannot be said for Southampton. They secured a priceless 3-2 win at Albion last month, but that was their first win since November, and they’ve drawn too many games. Having stuck with manager Mauricio Pellegrino, it’s too late for the club to make a change now, and this inability to turn draws into victories could prove costly.

Southampton’s plight is made starker by the recent improvements at Huddersfield and Swansea. After a solid start to life in the Premiership, the Terriers appeared to be heading back to the Championship following a run of six straight defeats in 2018, but a stunning 4-1 home win over Bournemouth stopped the rot, and if David Wagner’s players can continue to show that level of spirit, they can yet survive.

The other bottom-five side who appear to be heading in the right direction are Swansea. Having dispensed with Paul Clement when the Swans were bottom of the table, they moved quickly for former Sheffield Wednesday boss Carlos Carvalhal, who has masterminded a stunning turnaround. Under his leadership, Swansea have lost one in seven, beaten Arsenal and Liverpool, and moved decisively out of the bottom three.

 

The other contenders

It has taken Roy Hodgson slightly longer than Carvalhal to turn around his relegation-threatened team, but he seems to have Crystal Palace well organised, and they will surely be too tough to get sucked back into the relegation mire – comments that also apply to West Ham, who under David Moyes have only lost once this year.

Brighton have proven to be a surprise package this season, and have managed to pull out enough good results to keep themselves clear of the relegation zone. What could count against them in a close-run battle is their fixture schedule, which pits them against Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United in their last four games. If they aren’t safe by then, things could be getting very tense on the South Coast.

Bournemouth’s shock 4-1 defeat at Huddersfield may have rattled the Cherries’ supporters, but they have enough in their squad to avoid slipping into the relegation zone, and the same can probably be said for Watford and Everton.

Newcastle’s safety, however, is very much up for grabs. The ongoing saga of the club’s sale and the lack of transfer investment has left the Magpies perilously close to the drop. What may count in their favour is the expertise of manager Rafa Benítez, who was able to engineer a crucial victory over Manchester United and is likely to have one or two more tricks up his sleeve that could keep them safe.

Even if your club isn’t involved in the struggle, the desperate tussle to avoid slipping out of the Premier League basement offers plenty of drama and spectacle, and those who like to play the sports betting markets at this time of year are well aware that the fight to avoid relegation can sometimes lead to surprising results at big odds as lowly teams find an extra gear or an extra level of effort as they scrap for every single point.

With so many teams potentially involved, almost every match from now to the end of the season will have relevance to the relegation picture, which should make for a thoroughly gripping and entertaining close to the season – unless, of course, your team is involved!