The Premier League may not be the best league in the world but it is the most unpredictable because any team can beat any other on their day.” That’s the go-to line for pundits and fans in England, and their theory was only strengthened by Leicester City’s remarkable title win last season. The supposed competitiveness of the current campaign is also used to add weight to the argument that the Premier League is somehow different to other leagues, but it doesn’t take much delving to realise that shock results are not exclusive to England.
Some of Europe’s most dominant sides are facing tough challenges in their domestic leagues this season. The most striking example of this is perhaps Paris Saint-Germain, who have won Ligue 1 for the last four seasons running but find themselves third in the table, behind Monaco and shock leaders Nice.
Paris Saint-Germain have dropped 10 points in their first 12 league matches – six more than at this stage last season – after a defeat to Toulouse and draws with St Etienne and struggling Marseille. Their recent stalemate with Marseille was a particularly intriguing example of how the points don’t always go to the most dominant side, a fact not restricted to the Premier League. The champions mustered 16 shots while Marseille became the first side in Ligue 1 history to fail to have a single attempt at goal, but they still held out for a goalless draw.
Elsewhere, while Bayern Munich top the Bundesliga once more, they do so only on goal difference and are competing with two unexpected rivals. Their closest challengers from last season, Borussia Dortmund, are currently fifth in the table and only ended their run of four games without a win by beating bottom club Hamburg at the weekend. Instead it’s newly promoted RB Leipzig who are pushing Bayern Munich closest after a sensational start to the campaign. RB Leipzig have won their last five matches and sit just above Hoffenheim – the third unbeaten team in the Bundesliga – who finished last season one point above a relegation play-off spot.
Hoffenheim, who are managed by 29-year-old Julian Nagelsmann, would have beaten Bayern at the Allianz Arena on Saturday were it not for an own goal from their winger Steven Zuber. As it happened they became the third side to take points from Bayern in the reigning champions’ last five games, joining Frankfurt and Cologne in proving that the league leaders have been far from untouchable.
In Serie A, while Juventus are at the league’s summit once more, they have lost twice this season; first to an Inter side that have had very little else to cheer this season and then back at San Siro against a Milan team that featured four players under the age of 23. Napoli, who finished second last season, find themselves down in sixth after a run of seven points from their last six games.
Atlético Madrid’s win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League in September suggested that their season was starting with a bang, but they haven’t had it all their own way either. They have dropped 12 points from their first 11 league games and their defeat to Real Sociedad on Saturday was a low point, even more disappointing that their draws with newly promoted Alavés and Leganes. Results like that wouldn’t happen to all-conquering Barcelona though, would they? Well actually they would. The La Liga champions have already lost at home to Alaves and away at Celta Vigo this season.
In that sense, when you consider that the Premier League’s “big six” have lost just two matches to sides not within that same bracket – Liverpool against Burnley and Manchester United against Watford – the theory that the Premier League is unlike any other league in terms of upsets is just not true.
The one area in which the Premier League does stand up as the most competitive league this season is the gap from the top of the league to the relegation zone. With 16 points separating Liverpool in first to from Hull in 18th, the gulf is the smallest in Europe’s big leagues. Nevertheless, in terms of shock defeats, England’s top flight has been no different to any other league in the sense that they remain few and far between, with its unpredictability perhaps a little overstated – Leicester’s 2015-16 heroics aside.
Pep Guardiola has already dismissed the notion that the Premier League is somehow superior in terms of intensity, saying: “None of you have been in La Liga or the Bundesliga to know how intense it is. You have to have respect for the other leagues and the way they play.” Perhaps it’s also time to accept that top teams do drop points elsewhere too.
The Guardian Sports