The English Premier League is viewed by many football fans as the most competitive league on the planet. If you're not on your game, you can be beaten by any team. Plus, the lack of a winter break and the congested nature of fixtures at certain points in the season means that it is an absolutely relentless league to play in.
But how many games are there in a Premier League season? That's the question we'll be answering in this article, as we compare the English top flight with other leagues across the world and determine which country has the trickiest schedule of all. We'll glide through France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the United States, explaining each league system and the amount of games played by each team.
Ever since the league structure was adapted slightly at the end of the 22-team 1994/95 season, which saw four teams relegated and only two promoted, the Premier League has used a 20-team structure. Within this format, three sides are relegated each season, while one side wins the title and the rest of the top four qualify for the Champions League.
Given that each side plays each other twice (home and away), every team in the Premier League plays a total of 38 league fixtures in a single season, 19 at home and 19 away from home.
It's a busy schedule, especially when you consider that every team also has multiple cup competitions to play in, from domestic knockout formats like the prestigious FA Cup and the Carabao Cup (or League Cup) to European competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League or Europa Conference League, as well as international breaks that see most Premier League players jetting off across the world to represent their countries in friendlies and World Cup or European Championship qualifiers.
20 teams playing 38 matches each means that in total, there are 380 games in a full Premier League season, many of which will be broadcast on TV on channels such as Sky Sports, TNT Sports, and Amazon Prime Video.
Those games will be divided equally between the season's calendar, which typically runs from August to May, with a break in the summer for players to recuperate and get ready for the new campaign. All in all, it's a lot of football — but that's hardly a surprise, given the reputation English football has for being intense and demanding.
La Liga is the top division of Spanish football, graced by huge clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid.
Just like the Premier League, the Spanish top flight features 20 teams in total, with each team playing each other once at home and once away.This means each team plays 38 games, with the maximum amount of points that can be gathered being 114. This format has been in place ever since 1997.
As a result, there are also 380 games played in La Liga between August and May. Clubs will also face additional clashes in the country's two domestic cups, the Copa Del Rey and the Supercopa de Espana, and teams like Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will usually compete in European tournaments such as the Champions League as well.
Italy is a historic footballing nation, with glittering tournament performances to their name dating back decades, and four World Cup and two European Championship wins to back it up. Italy is a nation that has produced influential philosophies and positional concepts such as catenaccio, trequartista and regista, and it's also a country with a hugely popular domestic league featuring some massive clubs such as Juventus, Internazionale, Milan, and Napoli.
The Italian top division is called Serie A, and it is structured in much the same way as La Liga and the Premier League, with 20 teams competing and three teams being relegated to the second tier (Serie B in this case). This means that each time plays 38 games in a regular season.
Interest in the Bundesliga amongst English football fans seems to have increased since the arrival of Three Lions captain Harry Kane in Bavaria; since his high-profile transfer from Spurs to Bayern Munich in the summer, Kane has been an absolute revelation, stunning German football fans and recording a remarkable 18 goals and 5 assists in his first 12 Bundesliga matches.
His brilliant array of skills is clearly the major factor behind this explosive start, although Bundesliga critics would argue that he's aided by the fact that Bayern have massive financial advantages over their domestic rivals, and the Munich giants have admittedly been unassailable in Germany in recent years. However, the Bundesliga is still competitive and over the course of each season it produces some fascinating and inspiring stories, including the rise of underdog sides such as Union Berlin.
The German top flight has slightly fewer clubs in it than the most other top 5 leagues, with 18 sides playing in the competition each season as opposed to 20. This means there are slightly fewer games each year; every team will play 34 fixtures in an ordinary campaign, meaning that in total there are 306 league games across the whole season.
Relegation and promotion between the German top flight and its second division (2. Bundesliga) is also done differently to many other top leagues. In Germany, at the end of the season there is a dramatic relegation play-off match between the team that finishes 3rd from bottom in the top division and the team that finishes 3rd in the second division. It's a two-legged, winner-takes-all scenario that can leave the 16th-placed team in the Bundesliga having their top flight status snatched by a strong up-and-comer from the league below. Similar systems exist in other leagues across the world, including the Scottish professional league system.
Despite hosting a wide range of world class players including Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Jonathan David, the French top flight (labelled Ligue 1) can sometimes face criticism from abroad, with PSG's domination of the division in recent years causing some to dub Ligue 1 a "farmer's league" (a derogatory term for a league lacking competitiveness or quality).
It's true that it's been extremely difficult for other clubs to take the league title away from Paris Saint Germain in recent seasons, although sides such as Lille and Monaco (thanks in large part to an explosive young Kylian Mbappe) have managed to break the trend in the last decade.
In total, there are 18 teams that battle it out across the division each season, the same amount of clubs as the German Bundesliga, and therefore the same amount of total games — 306.
Another similarity with Germany is that at the end of the season, the team that finishes 16th in the league table is forced with a hugely important play-off fixture against the 3rd-placed club in the league below. This promotion/relegation battle is the source of immense drama each year. At the top of the table, the slight drop-off in quality between the French league and competitions like the Premier League and La Liga means that only the top two sides each year will qualify automatically for the Champions League group stages, and the third-placed team will face a Champions League qualifier.
Major League Soccer has experienced a serious boom in recent years, with the arrival of Argentina's World Cup-winning captain Lionel Messi having a particularly strong impact — these days, tickets to Inter Miami games are more in-demand than virtually any NFL game.
However, the MLS is very different to most other soccer leagues across the world. For example, it's one of the few soccer systems on the planet in which there is a fixed membership system instead of having relegation and promotion; unlike in England, Italy or Brazil, teams do not move between divisions based on their performance, but remain in the MLS franchise once they have been permitted to join (you can find out more about promotion and relegation here).
Another important consideration is the geography of the United States. Because of the size of North America, MLS is split into an Eastern Conference (competed in by franchises on the Eastern side of the USA and Canada) and the Western Conference (competed in by teams on the Western side of the continent).
One other key format point of Major League Soccer that we should flesh out is the division of the league season into two sections: the regular season and the postseason knockout tournament.
In the regular season, each team plays a total of 34 games. Each club competes against all of the sides in its own conference twice, home and away. On top of that, they also play eight games against teams from the opposing conference, four at home and four away. Due to the fact that the Western Conference has one fewer franchise (currently, there are 15 clubs in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the Western Conference), teams in the Western side play an extra one or two intra-conference games.
Yes, it's a confusing, and totally unique system. No other country in the world structures its soccer league matches like the USA and Canada; however, the growing popularity of the sport in North America suggests that the format is working. And given the increasing number of American owners investing in Premier League clubs, it doesn't look like that growth will slow down any time soon.