Sunday, 7 July 2013

About the EFCL

This pet project of mine was born out of curiosity to know what would happen if the best football clubs in Europe faced each other following the same system that is used in the national league championships: everyone plays twice against each other, you give out three points for each win and one for each draw, and you add up the points to see who is the best. It is a simple and well-respected system, and it has always been the basic staple of football competitions all over the world.

So, that is what has been done here. The last two games pitting the best clubs in Europe against each other have been found (friendlies excluded, only competitive matches have been counted), and the results have been compiled into a league table.

To limit the extension of the experiment, the criterion used to select the teams involved has been the number of games played in the Champions League since 1992-93. That was the year when the European Cup introduced group stages into the competition, and since then every new change in the format of the tournament has favoured that the best clubs in the continent play in it every year or almost. It has also meant that the Champions League is the only place where the best teams from different countries can face each other. If you want to play competitively against the likes of Manchester United or Real Madrid, you just have to be in this competition, although sometimes important teams see themselves "demoted" to the Europa League.

In August 2013 the list of teams to have played 10 or more matches in the Champions League since 1992 stood as follows:

01 194 ENG Manchester United
02 188 SPA FC Barcelona
03 182 SPA Real Madrid
04 175 GER Bayern München
05 166 ITA AC Milan
06 149 ENG Arsenal London
07 143 POR FC Porto
08 124 ITA Juventus Torino
09 120 ENG Chelsea London
10 108 UKR Dynamo Kyiv
11 106 FRA Olympique Lyonnais
12 105 ITA Internazionale Milano
13  98 NET PSV Eindhoven
14  92 SPA Valencia CF
15  90 GRE Olympiacos Pirea
16  88 TUR Galatasaray Istanbul
17  84 NET Ajax Amsterdam
18  84 GRE Panathinaikos Athinai
19  82 ENG Liverpool FC
20  78 NOR Rosenborg Trondheim
21  74 BEL Anderlecht Brussels
22  72 GER Borussia Dortmund
23  72 ITA AS Roma
24  70 SCO Glasgow Rangers
25  70 CZE Sparta Praha
26  69 FRA Olympique Marseille
27  68 POR Benfica Lisboa
28  68 RUS Spartak Moskva
29  65 GER Bayer Leverkusen
30  58 SPA Deportivo La Coruña
31  54 UKR Shakhtar Donetsk
32  50 GER Werder Bremen
33  49 FRA AS Monaco
34  48 SCO Celtic Glasgow
35  46 RUS CSKA Moskva
36  44 FRA Paris Saint-Germain
37  44 ITA Lazio Roma
38  42 GER Schalke 04 Gelsenkirchen
39  40 TUR Fenerbahçe Istanbul
40  40 SWE IFK Göteborg
41  38 RUS Lokomotiv Moskva
42  34 ROM Steaua Bucuresti
43  34 TUR Besiktas Istanbul
44  34 FRA Girondins Bordeaux
45  34 NET Feyenoord Rotterdam
46  32 FRA Lille OSC
47  32 SWI FC Basel
48  32 POR Sporting Lisboa
49  30 GRE AEK Athinai
50  28 ESP Villarreal CF
51  28 BEL Club Brugge
52  26 CRO Dinamo Zagreb
53  25 GER VfB Stuttgart
54  24 ESP Atlético Madrid
55  24 ITA AC Fiorentina
56  24 ISR Maccabi Tel-Aviv
57  24 DEN FC Kobenhavn
58  22 ENG Leeds United
59  20 RUS Zenit Sant Petersburg
60  20 FRA AJ Auxerroise
61  18 BLS BATE Borisov
62  18 ROM CFR Cluj
63  18 AUT Sturm Graz
64  16 SPA Sevilla FC
65  16 CYP APOEL Nicosia
66  12 ENG Manchester City
67  12 POR Sporting Braga
68  12 GER Hamburger SV
69  12 SER Partizan Beograd
70  12 RUS Rubin Kazan
71  12 BEL RC Genk
72  11 ITA Sampdoria Genova
73  10 SPA CD Málaga
74  10 ENG Tottenham Hotspur London

From this list the top 26 teams were chosen, and the results against each other were compiled. Any other teams that are able to play more than 70 games in the Champions League will be added in the forthcoming seasons to make the table more comprehensive. Olympique de Marseille, Benfica and Bayer Leverkusen will pass that milestone in 2013-14, so they have been incorporated already. Sparta Prague and Glasgow Rangers stand at exactly 70 games, but as they are not regulars in the Champions League, they have been held back for now. Spartak Moscow, at 68, might be the next addition, although not this season.

The following provisions and rules must be taken into account:

1 - The number of games played in the Champions League is the sole criterion for entry in the EFCL, but once a team has been entered, the last two competitive matches against the other teams will be used in this table, regardless of the tournament in which these games were played. These include the Champions League itself, but also the Europa League or the European Supercup. For example, the last competitive match between Chelsea and Real Madrid was the 1998 European Supercup, and the second last was the return leg of a 1971 Cup Winners' Cup tie. So these are the two results entered in the table to represent the games between these two teams.

Also, and very importantly, domestic matches played between teams from the same country are used, be they league, cup, league cup or supercup games. Any last two competitive matches in any competition is the absolute rule, even if they belong to two different competitions.

2 - Some teams have never played each other competitively. Valencia have never played Milan, for example, and Chelsea have never faced Lyon. Or, most strikingly of all, given the historical ties between them, Barcelona and Ajax have never played a competitive match against each other. In these cases, the two non-played games have been considered 0-0 draws. It might not be the most perfect solution, but in the absence of data, I would rather do this than consider them empty games in hand for decades. We will just have to wait until one day these missing ties are played. Of the 625 games used to make up the list, 88 have not been played yet. In fact, there are only two teams that do not have "missing" matches and have therefore played at least twice against everybody else in the EFCL: Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. A couple of curious cases are Arsenal v Galatasaray, who have faced each other just once, in the 2000 UEFA Cup final (so we have one valid match between them, but not two), and the same happens with Valencia and Marseille, whose only match against each other was another UEFA Cup final, in 2004.  

3 - Some games in the table are quite old, like the aforementioned 1971 game between Chelsea and Real Madrid, but, again, there's nothing to be done about it except waiting for these teams to be paired up again, so that the results become more relevant. The oldest games in the table are a 1960 tie between Milan and Olympiacos.

4 - On the other hand, some teams play each other very frequently, for example in England, where some clubs could face each other up to nine times in a season (Community Shield, league, FA Cup, league cup and European competition), so sometimes a result becomes the third-to-last game played between those two teams (and therefore is discarded) very quickly. A national supercup game, for example, is guaranteed not to last until the end of the season, because at least two league games will be played between those two teams just a few months later.

5 - When a new eligible game is played, the second-to-last match between the same teams disappears from the table to make room for the new result. This can provoke swings of up to six points if a team replaces a game they had won with one they now lose, and vice versa. Two teams tied on 60 points, for example, could end up on 57 and 63 respectively if the new game is won by the team who had lost the game due to "disappear".

And this is it, basically. As I said, this project is merely a curiosity, and you can pick many holes in it (I will be the first to do so in other posts), so I am not claiming it should be The True Way Of Deciding Who Is The Best, but on the other hand it is comprehensive, it takes into account as many as 50 matches per team, and those games were actually won, drawn or lost, so what's the harm in drawing conclusions from them? Therefore, I will continue to treat the EFCL at least half-seriously and see where it takes us. The blog will be updated whenever new matches are played, and the league table will be moving all the time. Thanks for the time you took to look through this blog, if any at all.

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