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How strong are Premier League teams?

3 June 2013
Manchester United lose to Dortmund in 1997, when only 5 English clubs occupied the top 50 spaces in Europe.

Manchester United lose to Dortmund in 1997, when only 5 English clubs occupied the top 50 spaces in Europe.

The Premier League often markets itself as the world’s strongest league, and certainly the Champions League performance of its elite teams between 2005 and 2012 testifies to that.

The fantastic Club Elo website keeps a historical rating of European clubs, dating back to the 1960s. Using this database, I was interested to see how the current level of English clubs relates to how the nation’s teams have performed historically.

By taking the ranking of the top 50 teams in Europe at the end of each season – 31st May or the closest archived date – the chart below illustrates how many places English teams have occupied amongst the very best clubs on the continent.

English Club Strength

Currently there are only 7 English clubs in the top 50, the lowest point since 2004. The 21st Century peak of 13 clubs in 2008, including 4 in the top 10, still ranks well below the high points of the 1970s and 80s, where England had as many as 18 clubs in the top 50 (1974), and 5 in the top 10 (1979). It seems unlikely that English football will dominate to this level again, owing to the increased depth and professionalism across European football.

There’s plenty more to be investigated with this data, including how, if at all, the strength of English clubs relates to the performance of its national team, as well as other factors.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 4 June 2013 12:59 pm

    Hello, my name is Lars and I maintain This analysis is extremely interesting, I just want to make two comments that I think are worth mentioning:

    When looking at English teams in a European context, we always have to be aware that English clubs did not compete in European competitions between 1985 and 1990. So the rankings during that period are probably not accurate, we just cannot say anything about that era and how good the teams were. That knowledge combined with the above chart allows the conclusion that the decline did not start around 1992 but maybe earlier or was even triggered by the lack of international games.

    Also, if you look closely, the number of English clubs in the Top20 (7) is comparable to the 00s and pre-90s. It is the middle and lower parts of the league that are weaker today, everything from West Bromwich downwards would not really be competitive on the European level and that is the biggest difference between today and the 60s, 70s, 80s.

    Thanks for giving some credit to my ratings, I really appreciate that. Keep up the good work!

    • 4 June 2013 3:56 pm

      Thanks for this Lars – having reflected on the chart I totally agree and it’s something I should have pointed out. Really good point on the depth of the league, too.

      Keep up the good work yourself!

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