PROFESSIONAL SOCCER LEAGUES AROUND THE WORLD
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. It has more of an international following (outside the US) with some of the most well-known leagues scattered across Europe. The United States have built up their soccer presence over the last two decades with the MLS, but the country is far behind the rest of the world in terms of fandom and quality. This page covers the top leagues from around the world and explores the top teams in each league. Competition is not as level across each league, but there is plenty of quality to go around.
UNITED KINGDOM – ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
The English Premier League is the most popular soccer league out of all the majors. The EPL is also considered to be the most competitive across the table, though the same few teams make up the top 6 spots or so each season. This league draws the most viewers to their televised broadcasts, the most money with sponsorships and advertising and the most bets.
London-based Chelsea are the current defending champions. Manager Antonio Conte was able to revitalize the squad from their lackluster finish in the 2015-2016 campaign, securing another championship and a spot in the coveted Champions League. Conte’s additions of midfielder N’Golo Kante and defender Marcos Alonso proved to be vital for their championship run. Chelsea was clear ahead on points for most of the season, though they did not have the burden of Champions League or Europa League matches to clog their schedule.
Chelsea made headlines during this recent transfer window by signing striker Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid, effectively cutting striker Diego Costa from the starting lineup. Costa has proven a valued part of the team over his tenure with the club, but the Brazilian player has suffered a dip in form and has caused many problems on the pitch. If midfielder Eden Hazard can stay healthy throughout the year, and Morata can adjust to English football quickly, Chelsea may have a decent shot at retaining their title. They likely have their focus on the Champions League, but Conte has shown the club what it feels like to win, and the boys in blue will want to keep their winning momentum going.
Arsenal, another London-based club, are a team that is notorious for their mediocre finishes at the end of each season. Manager Arsene Wegner has been with the club for over ten years and recently signed a contract extension despite some fans’ pleas for him to part ways the team. They have been dominated in the Champions League over the years, especially by Germany’s Bayern Munich, even though they have high-quality players on their team. Forward Alexis Sanchez has been the brightest part of the team, but he is rumored to be leaving before the season starts in search of greener pastures. Arsenal signed forward Alexandre Lacazette in the transfer window to possibly make up for Sanchez’s departure.
The promising striker was successful with Lyon in the French league, so fans are excited to see how he adapts to the more physical English league. Lacazette’s addition leaves striker Olivier Giroud’s future in doubt. The Frenchman has been a solid player for the club over the years, but he has a tendency to vanish in big games when he is needed most. Arsenal’s midfield is strong with players like Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka, though their defense poses a potential risk. Defender Hector Bellerin is a bright spot for the backline, but defense is more than a one-man job. Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League, leaving them to play in the Europa League for the 2016-2017 season. This could prove to be Wegner’s last season if they fail to regain their spot in the Champions League. If they end up losing Sanchez, this task will be a lot more difficult.
The Tottenham Hotspurs, or Spurs, are the sleeper team to watch out for this upcoming season. The Spurs have never been seriously considered a top team in the league, but they have improved significantly over the past few seasons. Striker Harry Kane burst onto the scene and has been banging in goals for the club. He even won the Golden Boot award last season for scoring the most goals. Midfielders Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele have created a strong framework for the team. Their backline duo consisting of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen is one of the toughest in the league.
The Spurs lost defender Kyle Walker to Manchester City over the transfer window, but Tottenham should be able to recover. The Spurs finished in second last season and got close to catching Chelsea. They will be playing with a chip on their shoulder in the upcoming season. Whether they will be strong enough to survive the Champions League remains to be seen, but their domestic campaign should be promising. Tottenham’s lack of signings over the summer transfer window showcases Manager Mauricio Pochettino’s confidence in his squad.
Manchester United are one of the most storied teams in European football. Under former Manager Sir Alex Ferguson, United enjoyed years of success and titles, including both EPL and Champions League titles. The club has lost their winning ways ever since Ferguson left, with unsuccessful spells under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal. Currently, former rival Jose Mourinho (used to manage Chelsea), is heading the club. United have taken positive steps in signing quality players like midfielders Paul Pogba and Henrik Mkhitaryan and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but they lost the latter to a devastating injury towards the end of last season.
This upcoming season should be interesting with new additions Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof. Club legend Wayne Rooney played his last season with Untied last year and transferred to his boyhood club, Everton. United managed to win the Europa League last season, securing a spot in the Champions League, which was Mourniho’s overall goal. He hopes that his new additions will help shore up United’s flaws and improve their chances of winning both domestically and abroad. Fans are excited to see them back in the Champions League, but United should focus their attention on winning the league if they want to get back to the glory days of old.
Manchester City is a club with relatively newfound success. New owners stepped in several years ago and flooded the club with cash, allowing them to purchase quality players and improve their sponsorships. Manager Pep Guardiola is about to start his sophomore season and has some lofty expectations resting on his shoulders. City got knocked out of the Champions League last season by Monaco, crushing any hopes of winning their first European titles. The club has spent the most money in the offseason, acquiring defenders Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and Danilo. This makes their backline the most expensive in soccer history—they purchased John Stones and Victor Otamendi the year before.
The team has had some issues with the goalkeepers and hope newcomer Ederson will fix this problem. Their offense is solid with striker Sergio Aguero, one of the most prolific scorers in the league, and midfielders Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus. United have a more historical record of dominance in Manchester, though City has been the stronger team the past few seasons. Guardiola and company are under a lot of pressure to do well both domestically and in the Champions League.
Liverpool is another major club in the EPL and one with rich history. They have been a mid-table club for the past few years, but Manager Jurgen Klopp has steered the team back towards their winning ways. There was a point last season when Liverpool had expectations of winning. Their offensive lineup of Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi have proven to be good fits for the system. However, more recent signings Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah look to be vital in Klopp’s overall plans. Midfielder Philippe Coutinho has been the best player in recent seasons and the club is fighting to stave off other clubs’ bids. If Coutinho stays, Liverpool may very well be the underdog this upcoming season. They have looked great in preseason and look ready to make a push for domestic glory. Liverpool’s defense has been the weakest link in their team, and their lack of summer signings could end up being their downfall if the defense cannot remain consistent.
FRANCE – LIGUE 1
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG)
The best team in France has consistently been Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Ligue 1 has almost been one-sided for the better part of the last decade, though more teams have begun showing that they can give PSG a run for their money. They lost star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Manchester United a year ago, but the striker was aging and the club was ready to move on. PSG looked poised to win the Champions League last season, especially after dominating Barcelona in the first leg of their matchup, but the team lost in historical fashion in the second leg.
PSG have shown they are ready to shake off their disappointing last season by breaking the world transfer market to sign Neymar from Barcelona. Neymar joins the likes of Edinson Cavani, Julian Draxler, Marco Verratti, Angel Di Maria, Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Silva and Dani Alves. The hype around PSG is palpable, so Manager Unai Emery has a lot to accomplish. The club will also want to reclaim their domestic title back from Monaco, who were one of the biggest surprises in Europe last season.
Monaco were an interesting component of 2016-2017 world soccer. They bested PSG in Ligue 1 to claim the title and went far in the Champions League. They even knocked out England’s Manchester City in spectacular fashion. Unfortunately for the club, the biggest clubs in Europe came poaching for their players in the offseason—a curse of smaller clubs performing well. Striker Radamel Falcao has proven himself again in Europe after suffering an ACL injury several years back. Teenage-phenom Kylian Mbappe is one of the most exciting talents in soccer currently and has had a host of clubs coming after him, but no deals have finalized yet. The club lost Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva to Manchester City and Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea—three of their best players last season. It seems unlikely that Monaco will be able to retain their title and perform well in the Champions League, especially if they lose Mbappe, but Manager Leonardo Jardim has confidence in his squad.
GERMANY – BUNDISLIGA
The German Bundisliga is a popular league in terms of viewership—they have even signed a television rights deal with the US—but there is no denying that the league is one-sided for years. Bayern Munich have dominated the Bundisliga for as long as anyone can remember. The only clubs to ever come close to beating them as of late are Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg, though the latter club has fallen out of contention after losing several star players.
Munich have a fierce lineup consisting of players like Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Arturo Vidal, Franck Ribery, Thiago Alcantara, David Alaba, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Manuel Neuer. Bayern have been in the Champions League year after year, but always seem to be knocked out in the semifinals. The club signed James Rodriguez on loan from Real Madrid, which could shore up their already-strong midfield. Bayern have one of the best squads in the world on paper, but somehow cannot deliver when they are down in a hole. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has positive aspirations for the club and believes they will be stronger this upcoming season. Their domestic campaign is pretty much guaranteed, so all the team has to worry about is their performance in the Champions League.
Borussia Dortmund is the next best club in Germany. They possess some of the most exciting young talents including Ousmane Dembele, Christian Pulisic and Emre Mor. Pulisic, an American, is one of few Americans playing for a dominant European team. The squad already boasts some talented players in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Shinji Kagawa and Andre Schurrle. Manager Peter Bosz will be in his first season with the club, which could hinder the club’s performance, but the squad has looked promising in their preseason campaign. The German soccer league is tough with Bayern Munich present, but Dortmund have the pieces in place to remain competitive.
ITALY – SERIE A
The Italian Serie A league is rich in history and has seen its fair share of world-class players like David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Et’O and more. Juventus, AC Milan and Inter have been the three strongest teams, though they have alternated in terms of dominance over the years. Recently, Juventus has been the best team, going so far as to Champions League final last season (where they lost against Real Madrid), but AC Milan have showed they are not messing around this transfer market. Meanwhile, Inter looks to have remained stagnant, which could prove negative for the club.
Juventus were a powerhouse in Serie A and in the Champions League last season. With Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzukic, Sami Khedira and a strong backline consisting of Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio and Dani Alves (who has since been traded to PSG), the team looked unbeatable. They also possess legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Juventus were unable to stop Real Madrid in the Champions League final and ended their season in disappointment.
Manager Massimiliano Allegri still sees his squad as one of the best in Europe and believes they will challenge for the title again. The club signed Douglas Costa from Bayern Munich and hope he will add some pace to the wing. Domestically, Juventus are going to have to compete with AC Milan, who have been making waves in the transfer market, essentially composing a brand new squad.
AC Milan Manager Vincenzo Montella has performed a complete overhaul of his squad with a 160 million Euro spending spree. They have signed a total of 10 new players and are looking to finalize deals for several more, including striker Diego Costa. So far, they have signed Matteo Musacchio, Franck Kessie, Ricardo Rodriguez, Andre Silva, Fabio Borini, Hakan Calhanoglu, Antonio Donnarumma, Andrea Conti and Lucas Biglia and Leonardo Bonucci. Bonucci was one of Juventus’ best players but apparently fell out of favor with their manager. Milan’s new squad has looked good in the preseason and could potentially be a new force in Europe. If they finalize deals for their desired targets Renato Sanches, Andrea Belotti and Diego Costa, expect AC Milan to take Serie A by storm.
Inter have been the quietest of this Serie A trio as of late. They possess quality players in Mauro Icardi, Ivan Perisic, Stevan Jovetic and Antonio Candreva, but have not done enough to make a significant impact in Serie A. Manager Luciano Spalletti is hoping to reinforce his squad with players like Riyad Mahrez, which could help should they lose Perisic in the transfer market. Inter need to make a few signings if they want to keep up with Milan and Juventus, but the club has yet to splash the cash.
SPAIN – LA LIGA
Spain’s La Liga is controlled by three major teams—Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. This trio not only performs well domestically, but have been a constant presence in the Champions League for years. With some of the best players in the history of the game, La Liga is an exciting outlet for the sport. These three squads make up some of the fiercest rivalries in the modern game.
Real Madrid are the current defending champions in both La Liga and the Champions League. Manager Zinedine Zidane was fortunate to inherit a strong squad, but his management has allowed the club to reclaim their status as best in Europe. Real possess one of the best players to ever set foot on the pitch—Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo has lifted many trophies in his career, with the bulk of them coming with Real Madrid. He was pivotal in last season’s campaign, becoming the all-time leading scorer in Champions League history. Ronaldo is joined by Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Isco, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Keylor Navas. Real haven’t made any new additions to their squad, showcasing the confidence the team has. Even when star players like Bale went out with injury, the squad’s depth was enough to keep them competitive.
Barcelona is another team with rich history in Europe. They have had some incredible talents in Ronaldinho, David Villa and Samuel Et’o in the past. Their current team is full of future legends, including Lionel Messi, another player in the ‘greatest of all time’ discussion. Along with Messi, Barcelona is stacked with Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta, Arda Turan, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Rafinha. Barcelona just lost their star player Neymar in the transfer market to PSG, but they received a world record transfer fee for the Brazilian. Neymar’s absence will undoubtedly have an effect on the team, but Messi and Suarez still make up one of the most lethal strike forces in the game. Barcelona is fielding some young players that will need time to adjust, but new Manager Ernesto Valverde is optimistic his side will be able to keep up with Real Madrid.
Atletico Madrid have grown to be one of the strongest teams in the world. They recently made it to the Champions League final, but were beat by Real Madrid in penalties. Manager Diego Simeone has assembled a strong squad with Antoine Griezmann, Fernando Torres, Yannick Carasco, Koke, Saul, Diego Godin, Juanfran, Jan Oblak and Filipe Luis. Atletico have suffered disappointing losses in their past, but remain one of the toughest teams in La Liga. Their feud with Real Madrid and Barcelona has made for some incredible games. Atletico have not made any new signings this offseason due to a transfer ban, but the squad has enough depth to remain in contention both domestically and abroad. It is likely that they will be eliminated from the Champions League again, but they have proven they can run with the best of them.
UNITED STATES – MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
The United States are the farthest behind when it comes to soccer. The MLS has grown drastically over the years with the help of famous European players coming over for the twilight of their careers. Thierry Henry was the first to start this trend, though others like David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard have followed suit. Most soccer fans outside of the US have a low opinion of the MLS, stating the quality of the league is well below that of other international leagues. While this is true, American fans have rallied behind their favorite teams and the sport has grown considerably. LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, Houston Dynamo, New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls are some of the more well-known teams in the league.
There have been talks of expansion to cities like Miami, but the logistics of such an expansion require a lot of money and cooperation from city governments. It is likely the MLS will grow in the next couple of years, but they still will not be able to attract talented players in their prime. US soccer development is behind other countries, save for the rare exception of players like Christian Pulisic (who is currently enjoying success in the Bundisliga), so it will be a while before American players break into the world of soccer. The US international team has won several tournaments, most recently the Gold Cup, and has gained quite a following, perhaps more so than the other domestic teams. While the game of soccer has gained more popularity across the US, many American fans follow the more experienced European teams.
BETTING ON SOCCER LEAGUES AROUND THE WORLD
The MLS teams are included in the legal soccer betting lines found at relevant sportsbooks, however more bets are placed on the teams across the pond. There are UK football betting options that are only available to non-USA bettors, as well as USA soccer betting sites that accept Americans seeking legally licensed sports betting entertainment. Regardless of where you are betting from, you will find lines are all of these renowned soccer leagues from around the world.