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LaLiga Power Rankings: A primer

It’s time to unveil a new system to determine Spain’s best — and worst — sides.

Granada v Cadiz - LaLiga 123 Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

I hate Power Rankings.

Actually, let me rephrase that — I hate subjective Power Rankings. We already have league tables to rank teams. Subjectively moving teams up and down a rankings table is pointless, unnecessary and is a way for the person making the rankings to insert their own biases into their very own system so the rest of the internet can fight over it.

But, just like everything else, there’s nuance to even that opinion. Power rankings can be a good way to gauge what a certain writer is thinking, and a good general overview of what state teams are in. For example, a team ranked third will typically be pretty good. A team ranked last will not.

So, here we have the first ever LaLiga Power Rankings, and here is how I will assess teams this season.

(Before I go any further, I want to credit Riley Wichmann for this video which I applied to LaLiga. I changed it around so the overall rankings along with other aspects are different.)

I have ranked each team based on:

  • FiveThirtyEight’s Attacking and Defensive SPI (Soccer Power Index) Rankings differential. For example:

Barcelona’s SPI attack rating is 2.92, their defensive rating is 0.38 (the lower, the better). The difference is 2.53 and is enough to see them first in this particular ranking.

Real Valladolid, the team ranked last in this particular category, have an attacking SPI of 1.68 and a defensive SPI of 0.89. Their difference is 0.79 — not all that great.

  • Expected Goals for and against from FiveThirtyEight. This is the same process, with the difference being what exactly is judged. Barcelona again top this ranking and Levante are last.
  • Pressing Factor — basically just a team’s willingness to press, which is taken from the . number of interceptions and the percentage of possession a team has. I understand that, say, Getafe are penalised for not pressing and not wanting to press, and this shouldn’t automatically be seen as a negative. They do what they do and they do it well, but for the sake of these Power Rankings, this is how it goes — we can consider them progressive power rankings. You guessed it, Barcelona are top again. Real Betis were second in these rankings and Eibar(!) third.
  • Fluidity shows us a combination of the kind of chances a team gives up with what they can do in attack themselves.
  • Attacking Efficiency (expected goals versus total shots, which shows us how good the chances are and, well, basically how efficient a team is with the chances they create.)
  • Defensive Efficiency (expected goals against versus total shots.)
  • Total Score (all the rankings added up to see who is the best overall).

For example, Barcelona rank 1st, 1st, 1st, 5th, 5th and 1st in these six categories, and so they are first overall.

Last year’s LaLiga rankings

Just to give you a flavour for how different the Power Rankings are to the actual rankings — I have done it for last year, and there are some really interesting things that popped up. Take a look at Eibar! (I gave promoted sides Osasuna, Mallorca and Granada average ratings for everything, so don’t mind them in this).

LaLiga Power Rankings 2018/19

Team Ranking
Team Ranking
Barcelona 14
Real Madrid 25
Eibar 34
Sevilla FC 35
Valencia 38
Atletico Madrid 40
Real Betis 53
Getafe 53
Athletic Bilbao 61
Leganes 63
Real Sociedad 63
Osasuna 65
Granada 67
Mallorca 67
Villarreal 79
Espanyol 86
Celta Vigo 93
Real Valladolid 97
Alaves 99
Levante 110

Most surprising here is Eibar, I would say. Jose Luis Mendilibar is the best coach in the league given his resources and I don’t think there’s any doubt about this. Levante! How did they survive last season? And surprisingly, it’s Valencia who sit atop the attacking efficiency rankings.

Riley’s rankings are more detailed but if you have any suggestions, questions or would like to help me make these better, please let me know! You can find me mostly here.