Most major men’s football leagues across the world are set to begin the 2023-24 season across August, so now is an ideal time to assess the overall strength of those leagues using the Opta Power Rankings.
Here, we look at some of the key talking points before we kick off the new season.
The ‘Top Five’ European Leagues?
Well, according to our Opta Power Rankings, the often-talked-about top five European leagues are still just that. The top flights in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France are still the leading leagues based on the average Opta Power Ranking of the clubs making up those divisions in 2023-24, but possibly not in the order that you would expect.
The English Premier League leads the way, with the 20 clubs taking part in the 2023-24 campaign having an average team ranking of 48.6 and an average team rating on a zero to 100 scale of 87.1 (where zero is the worst-ranked team in the world and 100 is the best team in the world), with more clubs ranked within the top 10 (Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United) than any other league. The Premier League team with the lowest ranking – Luton Town in 116th – are ranked higher than nine Ligue 1 clubs, seven Serie A sides, four La Liga teams and three from the Bundesliga before a ball is kicked in 2023-24.
It might be surprising to some, but the German Bundesliga ranks as the second strongest league based on the average rating of their clubs in the Opta Power Rankings. Bayern Munich are doing a lot of the legwork here, with the reigning German champions ranked second, but RB Leipzig (seventh) and Borussia Dortmund (10th) also rank within the top 10.
Many would have expected La Liga to be the second strongest league, but their average team rating in the Opta Power Rankings (84.1) is just below that of the German top flight (85.4). However, the gap between the highest rated La Liga club (Real Madrid’s 93.2) and the lowest rated in the competition (Las Palmas (79.6) is the closest across all of the top five European leagues. That gap of 13.6 is lower than the Premier League (18.7), Bundesliga (16.2), Serie A (15.8) and Ligue 1 (16.3).
The Top 10 Leagues Across the World
European leagues dominate our league rankings. Nine of the top 10 top-flight leagues across the World are deemed to be in Europe, with the only exception being the Brazilian Serie A, which is the ninth strongest.
You have to go as far down as 62nd to find the highest ranked non-European club, with Palmeiras of Brazil taking that honour. The reigning Brazilian Serie A champions are also in pole position to reach the quarter-finals of the 2023 Copa Libertadores following a 1-0 first leg win over fellow Brazilian club Atlético Mineiro in the last 16. The Brazilian giants have won the competition in two of the last three years but were knocked out in last year’s semi-final.
Palmeiras are joined in the top 100 by fellow Brazilian club Flamengo (80th) and Argentine side River Plate (85th). The Argentine Primera Division is deemed the 17th strongest league and the third strongest outside of Europe, with Liga MX in Mexico just above in 16th. Only one Mexican club is placed inside the top 100 of the Opta Power Rankings, with Monterrey in 95th – one place below Premier League side Everton and three below Scottish giants Celtic (92nd).
Back to Europe, it might be surprising to see the Belgian Pro League and Swiss Super League ranked higher than the Portuguese and Dutch top flights. A lot of this comes down to the quality of the weaker half of each league.
Of the 64 teams across these two leagues, Portuguese behemoths FC Porto (13th) and Benfica (20th) are the highest ranked in the Opta Power Rankings, followed by PSV (21st), Feyenoord (30th), Ajax (32nd) and Sporting CP (38th). You have to go down as far as 50th to find the top ranked Swiss club side, Young Boys while the highest ranked Belgian club are Union Saint-Gilloise (54th).
Eight of the 18 clubs in the 2023-24 Portuguese Primeira are currently ranked outside the top 500 in the Opta Power Rankings, which is what pushes the top-flight league in Portugal down in our league ranking, but this is a reason why it’s so hard to explicitly compare leagues. The Swiss league only contains 12 clubs, so naturally the top 12 clubs in Switzerland will be ranked higher on average than the top 18 in Portugal or the Netherlands.
If you were to compare the average Opta Power Ranking of the top 10 clubs in each competition, that would move the Eredivisie to the sixth strongest and the Primeira Liga to seventh strongest, above the Belgian top flight (eighth) and Swiss League (12th).
MLS vs Saudi Pro League – The New Messi vs Ronaldo Debate
When Lionel Messi was set to leave Paris Saint-Germain after 2022-23, reports suggested that his two most likely destinations were Saudi Arabia or the United States. So when he joined Inter Miami in July and decided against signing for a Saudi club like long-term rival Cristiano Ronaldo did seven months earlier, some said he made the wrong decision and joined a weaker league.
Well, according to the Opta Power Rankings, that isn’t the case.
The average power rating of Major League Soccer clubs is 73.2, which is above the Saudi Pro League club average of 70.0. Of all top-flight leagues across the world, this places MLS as the 29th strongest – seven places above the Saudi Pro League (36th).
Major League Soccer is a much tighter league in terms of team quality according to the Opta Power Rankings. While three of the top four clubs from across both leagues are from the Saudi league (Al Ittihad, Al Hilal and Al Nassr) and just one from MLS (Philadelphia Union), 13 of the 14 lowest ranked clubs from both are in the Saudi league.