It can get tiring watching predictable leagues. For instance, it can get boring seeing Bayern Munich dominate the German Bundesliga time and time again. Winning the Meisterschale eleven times in a row takes away some of the intrigue for neutrals. Meanwhile, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and occasionally Atletico Madrid all vie for the title in LaLiga. Competitive title races are getting rarer and rarer with the increasing disparity of wealth in soccer. However, there are still some competitive soccer leagues throughout the world.
A competitive soccer league must have unique title winners, or at least considerable movement inside the table. Results should be unpredictable. In other words, any team can beat anyone on any given day, as the adage goes. It has to be fun to watch as well, which means elite goals together with talent on the field.
With those criteria in mind, here is a top-five list of competitive soccer leagues in the world.
Most competitive soccer leagues in the world
Although the Eredivisie has traditionally been dominated by Ajax, this past season is a solid indicator of why you should be watching the Netherlands’ first-tier league. Ajax finished third, six points behind second-placed PSV, and a further 13 points behind champions Feyenoord. Thrilling comeback victories such as Feyenoord’s 3-2 away win against Ajax and PSV’s intense 4-3 win over Feyenoord have drawn viewer after viewer to this explosive league.
What’s remarkable about the Eredivisie is its ability to produce talents. Xavi Simons, Jurrien Timber, Mohamed Kudus, Lutsharel Geertruida, and others are all playing in the Eredivisie and can be described as some of the best young players of today. If you love watching stars in the making, you’ll love the Eredivisie.
It’s also worth noting the Eredivisie is more competitive than you would expect. Although Ajax has dominated PSV and Feyenoord in recent years, PSV and Feyenoord have revitalized the league thanks to a mix of youth scouting and smart transfers. Teams such as AZ Alkmaar, FC Twente, and Utrecht often provide entertaining competition beneath the Netherlands’ Big Three.
Even if no team can win a back-to-back title championship, the EFL Championship remains arguably the most competitive and entertaining. Much of that is thanks to its system of promotion and relegation. The scenarios at the end of the season are always exciting, and the permutations often change by the minute.
The Championship not only features 46 games per team, which results in drama, storylines, and action. There is a promotion play-off between the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th seeds. Last year’s final, between Luton Town and Coventry City, went down to the wire, with Luton Town winning 6-5 on penalties.
The Championship is unpredictable thanks to its parity. There are big scorelines from mediocre teams. Who would have guessed Blackpool would break its four-game winless streak with a 6-1 win over QPR? Or that relegation candidates Hull City would hold promotion contenders Sunderland to a 4-4 draw? The games are fun and the stakes are high, making the EFL Championship arguably the most entertaining second-tier league in the world.
Thanks to the rapidly-evolving Brazilian soccer scene, largely helped by the never-ending stream of players and coaches leaving the domestic league, the Brasileirão is very unpredictable. Of the 20 teams competing in the Brasileirao, 13 currently in Serie A have won the title at some point in their existence.
Brazilian coaches are regularly fired. A 2018 study conducted by the German Sport University Cologne concluded that 37.1 coaches were fired in Brazil across 15 years from 2003 to 2018. By contrast, 10 were fired in England, and 4.9 in France. This is partly because of a revolving door of new faces thanks to the transfer culture built in Brazil, but also due to the short-term logic that dominates the thinking of club presidents.
It helps that the title races are close and unpredictable. Last season, Botafogo finished a lowly 11th place. This season, they’re in first, ahead of Grêmio in second, who are two seasons removed from a painful relegation. The whole table seems upside-down. Fortaleza, Cruzeiro, and Red Bull Bragantino have all surpassed traditional powerhouses such as Santos and Corinthians.
There is quality in Serie A, too. Endrick, Yuri Alberto, Vitor Roque, and Marcos Leonardo are arguably the hottest prospects coming out of Brazil, while Gerson, Raphael Veiga, and Rony are players hitting their prime. The strike force of Pedro, Gabriel Barbosa, Everton, and Giorgian de Arrascaeta provides must-see TV; thanks to them, Flamengo has the most goals in Serie A so far.
Italian Serie A
Although Juventus has dominated Serie A throughout the last decade; they won the Scudetto for eight years from 2012 to 2020; there has been a unique title-winner in each of the last three years. Inter breezed to the top of the table in 2021, Milan barely fought off Inter in 2022, and Napoli secured a historic championship in 2023.
The 2023-24 season seems even tighter, especially with the eye-catching transfers surrounding Serie A. Stars such as Kim Min-jae, Victor Osimhen, Hirving Lozano, and more are close to making big transfers abroad.
Serie A games are often entertaining thanks to the talent on hand; players such as Osimhen, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Lautaro Martinez, Rafael Leao, Ademola Lookman, Paulo Dybala, and more have all littered the goal charts this season. The league also looks different than the Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri-inspired teams of the 2010s. Most teams in Serie A play a very attractive, exciting brand of soccer. Serie A boasted an average of 2.58 goals per game.
Major League Soccer
MLS‘ Americanized approach to building a league makes it very even and hard to predict. The league does many things differently than other leagues. It doesn’t have a promotion/relegation system, and it uses a playoff to decide the league winner. It also has salary caps, two conferences, Designated Players, and a SuperDraft at the end of each season.
Thanks to this, it is easy to rise and fall quickly. The Colorado Rapids, dead last in the Supporter’s Shield table, finished second in the regular season standings two years earlier. FC Cincinnati won just four games in 2021, but they are on top of the regular season table in 2023.
Note that there is not a team that consistently contends for the title every single year. The MLS doesn’t have a dynasty thanks to its unique rules. Big-market teams don’t dominate the league as they do in Europe. Teams in Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, and even Toronto will have an advantage when it comes to signing players. But, MLS is very even when it comes to transfers and results, as Alexi Lalas recognized.
MLS is the most competitive league in the world — not the biggest or always the best quality — but Chelsea know they will win 70 percent of their games because they have the best players. That kind of superclub dominance does not live in MLS, which makes it a purer form of the game over here.Alexi Lalas in a 2014 interview with Roger Bennett
It helps that MLS players have scored many Puskas Award contenders recently.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Pro Sports Images
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