Is the Premier League the most unpredictable major league in world football?

Chelsea v Burnley - Premier League
You couldn't write it! Burnley upset champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the opening game of the season (Source: Getty)

Jose Mourinho echoed a widely-held belief when, in 2015, he commented in dismissive terms about the predictable nature of the other major European leagues.

“When you see a 6-0 or a 7-0 in Italy or Spain the people really know the difference between the top teams and bottom teams,” said the now-Manchester United manager. “But most of the matches in England are not like this because every team in this league wants to get points. It’s so competitive.”

Yet data from bookmakers suggests that England’s top division may actually be easier to call than some of the other leading European leagues.

In the last five years, the number of times that the pre-match underdogs won was greater in both Spain’s La Liga and France’s Ligue 1 than in the Premier League.

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According to football-data.co.uk, which uses average pre-match odds from comparison site BetBrain, 384 matches were won by the underdogs in the Premier League in the last five full seasons.

In Spain and France a respective 396 and 390 matches have been won by underdogs. In Italy it was 375 matches and in the Bundesliga — which features fewer matches due to the lower number of teams — it was 364 matches.

The picture in England is a new one, however. Until last season, the Premier League did indeed appear to be getting more competitive.

After Manchester United’s triumphant 2012-13 campaign, the percentage of games won by underdogs in the Premier League steadily rose each year from 18 per cent to 25 per cent in Leicester’s remarkable run to the title in the 2015-16 season.

That saw the Premier League overtake all of its continental rivals in the unpredictability stakes.

Yet last season just 17 per cent of games were won by underdogs — the lowest level in the Premier League for 10 seasons, and the joint lowest of the big five European leagues alongside Serie A last year.

In contrast, La Liga saw 18 per cent of its games won by underdogs, Ligue 1 saw 21 per cent and the Bundesliga 24 per cent.

England leads the way by another metric, however.

For hard-to-call games, the Bundesliga has been the go-to league in recent years. Not once in the last decade have fewer than 21 per cent of games been won by an underdog.

Yet if individual games in the Premier League have tended to be easier to call, the outcomes of entire seasons have been harder to predict.

While your average Bundesliga game between mid-table German sides is more unpredictable than a Premier League game, Bayern Munich have won the last five leagues in a row and have done so in dominant fashion.

The average points gap between the English champions and the fourth-placed side in the last five years is just 14.4 points — the lowest in Europe’s top five leagues.

In Germany the equivalent figure was 27.2 points, in Spain it was 28 points, in Italy 24 points and in France 22.8 points.

Jose Mourinho may just have a point after all.

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