Friday, 28 September 2012

Which league dominates the UEFA Champions League?

Themba Sweet analyses who has been dominating the Champions League.

Last season I noticed an increasing feeling on social media platforms and amongst the tv pundits, that La Liga is the best performing league playing in the UEFA Champions League. Now in the past few years with Barcelona dominating, it can be understood. Yet if you took a look at Real Madrid’s past few years in the UCL, you’d notice that they were rather disappointing. I decided to go back into the record books and see which league really does dominate the Champions League.

As a kid growing up in the early 90’s, Serie A was the dominant force in Europe. It was clear to see in this competition too, with a Serie A club involved in every final for 7 straight years: 1992-1998.

Although the Champions League was rebranded in 1992, it didn’t resemble the current tournament until the 1997-98 season. This was the first season where teams could enter the UCL without the need to win their league.  In my research I aim to see which league is consistently in the final KO rounds of the UCL and if 1 league has more than 1 team, they get more than 1 point. So to keep everything as fair as possible, here were my guidelines for this test:

  • I’ve taken the date range from 1997/98 – 2011/12
  • I consider teams in the QF stage and onwards only (final KO rounds)
  • 1 point per team
  • I’ve only taken into account the top leagues:
    • EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Primeira Liga, Eredevisie

Quarter-final stage

So let’s see who really does dominate the Champions League as we know it. The consensus seems to be La Liga, but let’s see who’s dominated the past 15 years of the QF stage:Over the past 15 seasons, the English Premier League has been an ever-present in the quarter-final stage. Aside from that, they’ve made a total of 32 appearances at this stage. This is more important since it is a reflection of the strength of the league. An example is the 2007/08 & 2008/09 seasons which both had 4 EPL teams reach the QF stage. That’s 8 appearances in the QF over 2 years for the EPL. No other league has had 4 teams from their league in the QF at this stage, yet the EPL managed it in 2 consecutive seasons. La Liga trails in this regard with 27 appearances over 15 seasons.

Semi-final stage
It has to be said that the QF stage of the Champions League has been dominated by the EPL teams for nearly 2 decades, but if we think about the Semi-Finals over the past few years, one team springs to mind – Barcelona. An ever-present for half a decade in the semi’s, and possibly the main reason many believe La Liga to be stronger in Europe. It’s quite true though. The last time Barca failed to reach the SF stage was 6 seasons back. They are clearly the best team in Europe based on UEFA coefficients. But what about the rest of La Liga?

Even though the past 6 seasons saw 11 appearances by EPL teams in the semi’s against the 9 from La Liga, the Spanish league pips the Premier League since the EPL made most of their SF appearances in the past few years. 

One of the most striking facts one can take from this table is the gulf between the EPL/La Liga teams when compared against the rest of the European Leagues. None of the other leagues have made 10 appearances at this stage, yet the EPL & La Liga might make their 19th & 20th appearance this season if more than 1 team reaches the SF. It speaks volumes as to why many foreign players are choosing the EPL & La Liga over Bundesliga & especially Serie A. There seems to be more chance of glory in those 2 leagues.
Having said that, there has been a Bundesliga team in the semi’s for the past 3 seasons. Italy’s last appearance in the semi’s – 2009/10. In fact, out of the past 15 seasons, a Serie A team has only been present in 7 of those 15 tournaments at this stage. And what of the Eredivisie? 1 appearance in the semi’s in 15 seasons? It’s little wonder that the youth of Ajax choose to move to the giants of Europe.
Of all of these numbers & figures, the 3 year stretch by the EPL between 2006 & 2009, has to be the most impressive. 3 EPL teams reached the semi’s 3 years in a row. 9 appearances in 3 seasons.
La Liga takes the prize for the best semi-finalists, edging out the EPL for now at least.

It’s very easy to count who has won the most titles over 15 years, but dominance doesn’t always result in titles. Chelsea vs Barcelona/Bayern last season. The dominant team didn’t win. Simply reaching the finals is a massive achievement. Things can go wrong within the game, but reaching the final is no accident. Having said that, which league has had the most appearances in the Final since 1997/98?

The EPL slightly edges La Liga, having made 9 appearances in the finals over 15 years. The graph roughly states that there’s currently over a 50% chance that a team from the EPL will reach the finals. However, if you look at their run before 2004, you’ll notice the stark contrast. Simply 1 final before 2004 – the famous 1999 victory from Manchester United. It clearly shows how far the EPL has come over the past decade. Over the past 8 seasons, there have been 8 appearances in the finals by an EPL team. That is ridiculously good. In comparison, the past 8 seasons have seen 3 finals from La Liga teams (all 3 appearances from Barcelona). La Liga had more of a presence in the finals in the years building up to the 2002 Galacticos victory.

La Liga has taken more UCL titles than any other league in Europe. Currently sitting on a 75% chance of victory if a La Liga team reaches the final. All 6 of the La Liga titles have been won by either Real Madrid or Barcelona, whereas 3 of the 4 EPL titles have been won by different teams. A shock to the Bundesliga (recently rewarded with 4 UCL spots) is their success rate over the past 15 seasons. 1 title (Bayern Munich). Even more worrying for the rest of Europe is that there have been no winners over the past 8 years other than Serie A, La Liga & EPL. A total domination of titles shared amongst 3 leagues.

Bear in mind that all of these stats are taken from the 1997/98 season – 2011/12. The reason is that 1997/98 was the first season to invite other teams apart from the league winners. This means we can grade the league and not just 1 team from the league (as pre-1997/98 tournaments were structured). Since UEFA have invited more than just 1 EPL team into the UCL, I would venture to say that they have dominated. Using the tables above, we can take the following info:

 This is a table based on presence – basically, who was there in the final stages over a period of 15 years. There has been more of a presence in the final stages by EPL teams rather than La Liga. The difference is that the La Liga teams go on to win the trophy when reaching the final. Well 6 out of 8 times, that is. At the end of the season, the winners are always remembered & rightfully so. Hopefully this article shows that the EPL, in recent years, has been the league to go consistently further than others in this competition. It also shows the vast gap between EPL & La Liga teams when compared to the rest of Europe.

Author: Themba Sweet
Twitter: @thembasweet

You can find more of Themba's work here


  1. The bar cart is IT! Too perfect! Another amazing score! What we see all the first time we have learned the hard way not to break up are perfect! Looking caveman! It was a great weekend of football!
    champions league live

  2. i liked your website, it has good design and nice collection of sports channels, but seems like your uefa champions league live stream is not working, can you please fix it? anyways keep up the good work


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