You loved the World Cup, getting into the matches until the final was played. You continued following the game by watching Major League Soccer from time to time. But you just want more.
If you feel this way, trust me when I say you’re not the only one. As a new fan of the sport, I can’t get enough. But watching MLS games just aren’t enough to satisfy me. Luckily, we have something to look forward to in a few weeks.
While flipping through the TV guide, you may have seen matches on ESPN, Fox Sports, or NBCSN and wondered what it was. More than likely, it was a friendly match as English Premier League clubs are preparing for the 2014-2015 season, which kicks off on Aug. 16. You’ve probably heard about the EPL before, but never looked into it.
Here’s a summary…
The Premier League is at the top of the ladder is terms of soccer. Formed in 1992, the league contains the top 20 clubs in England vying for a shot to bring home the cup after a 38-match schedule. Each club plays one another twice throughout the season, with the most total points at the end of the season being the champion. The top tier of the table will go on to play European football next season, while the bottom three will be relegated to the “minor leagues”, known as the Football League Championship. After each season, three teams drop out and are replaced by the top three clubs in the lower division.
If you are able to soak all of that information in, you may be interested in following along. Just like in American football, the matches are typically played on weekends, and won’t interfere too much with the NFL and college football since EPL matches are played early in the morning on our time schedule.
You may want to just casually follow along, but it’s always fun to have a rooting interest in sports, right? This guide will help you determine which club to support, and at the end, I’ll reveal my choice.
DO NOT CHOOSE
First off, I have to eliminate just over half the league before starting. You don’t want to end up choosing a club near the bottom for two reasons: 1) you’ll hardly ever see them on TV, and 2) it’s a good chance they could be relegated in a few years, meaning you can’t watch at all.
Obviously, I’m ruling the three incoming clubs, Burnley, Leicester City, and Queens Park Rangers first. I’d be willing to bet two of these three clubs will be relegated once again in 2015, so don’t bother.
The next set of clubs are capable of competing with teams at the top, but will end up mid-table or near the bottom of the league. They are: Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Hull City, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, and West Ham United. Look, I know there a couple teams in this group that have had success. Southampton and Stoke City finished eighth, ninth in the standings last season, while Hull City reached the FA Cup Final. But long term, you want consistency, and the nine clubs above have failed to maintain a winning tradition.
Eight Clubs to Choose From
You are now left with eight clubs. Some are at the elite level with expectations of winning the cup each season, while others are right on the cusp of reaching that point. Choose carefully.
Stadium: Emirates Stadium (60, 338)
Top Players: Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Jack Wilshere, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott.
Biggest Rival: Tottenham Hotspur
Notable Celebrity Fans: Queen Elizabeth, Prince Harry, Kevin Costner, Matt Damon, Jay-Z, Piers Morgan, Osama bin Laden.
Reason to Pick Arsenal: The Gunners have finished fourth the last two years, and won the 2014 FA Cup. They have the chance to break into the top three of the league, and adding Barcelona’s Sanchez will certainly help their high-pace attack system. Manager Arsene Wenger has been there since 1996, so you probably won’t have to worry about a coaching change for a while. They also play in a top notch stadium at Emirates, wearing the classic red-white kit.
Reason NOT to Pick Arsenal: They don’t spend as much as other teams in this list, and haven’t brought in star names until Sanchez. Also, Osama bin Laden was a supporter. That in itself should be enough to make you think twice. Seriously, he was. Look it up.
Stadium: Stamford Bridge (41,837)
Top Players: John Terry, Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Oscar, Willian.
Biggest Rival: Several clubs
Notable Celebrity Fans: Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Bryan Adams, Lil Wayne, Bill Clinton, Gordon Ramsey, Bruce Dern.
Reason to Pick Chelsea: A recognizable sponsor, sweet kits, and are committed to winning the cup each season. Chelsea always qualifies for European leagues, so that means greater chance to watch them on TV. Their manager, Jose Mourinho, is one of the most-liked coaches in the league when it comes to players, and they have a very large budget to acquire top stars. For 2014-15, they have added striker Diego Costa and midfielder Cesc Fabregas, adding on to the stacked roster filled with young talent. Oh, and Will Ferrell is a supporter.
Reason NOT to Pick Chelsea: The owner is Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire who has had several controversies over the years, including bribery, theft, and loan fraud to name a few.
Stadium: Goodison Park
Top Players: Tim Howard, Ross Barkley, Gareth Barry, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Leon Osman.
Biggest Rival: Liverpool
Notable Celebrity Fans: Sylvester Stallone, John McEnroe, Pete Best, John Lennon.
Reason to Pick Everton: Tim Howard. If you are one of the millions of Americans who fell in love with the bearded goalkeeper during the World Cup, you can continue to follow him at Everton. Everton may not be the best teams in the league in terms of talent, but under a likable manager in Roberto Martinez, they find ways to compete with the world’s best. If you like cheering for underdogs, maybe Everton is for you.
Reason NOT to Pick Everton: Don’t expect them to spend a chunk of change on the best players on the market. They don’t have the transfer budget that compares to the top teams, so it’s unlikely they’ll win the league title anytime soon.
Stadium: Anfield (45, 276)
Top Players: Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Rickie Lambert, Lucas Leiva.
Biggest Rival: Everton
Notable Celebrity Fans: LeBron James, Lana Del Rey, Samuel L. Jackson, Billy Bob Thorton, Mike Myers, Brad Pitt.
Reason to Pick Liverpool: Rich history, American ownership, and look at that list of celebrities. Liverpool is owned by the Fenway Sports Group, run by John W. Henry who is the owner of the Boston Red Sox. The blood red kits go great with the best chant in soccer, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, and you won’t have to worry about dealing with the biting fool known as Luis Suarez again.
Reason NOT to Pick Liverpool: It’s been quite some time since they’ve won the league title (1990). They did finish second last season, but before that, they finished eighth and seventh, respectively. The loss of Suarez does leave a hole in the scoring department as well.
Nickname: City, or The Citizens
Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium (47,405)
Top Players: Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta, David Silva, Fernandinho.
Biggest Rival: Manchester United
Notable Celebrity Fans: Aaron Rodgers, Marc Stein, Dirk Benedict, Timothy Dalton, Ricky Hatton, Serge Ibaka.
Reason to Pick Manchester City: They are swimming in cash. Man City was once relegated all the way to the third division of English football, but a group from Abu Dhabi have since taken over and turned them into the highest spending club in the league. They have turned their money into championships the last two seasons, with anything short of winning the cup being a disappointment for The Citizens from here on out.
Reason NOT to Pick Manchester City: There’s a good chance you’ll be called a “bandwagon fan”. Sure, picking someone like Man City would mean there would be lots of celebrating, but it would be a bit too obvious to jump on the wagon of the back-to-back EPL champs.
Nickname: Red Devils
Stadium: Old Trafford (75,731)
Top Players: Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata, David de Gea, Antonio Valencia.
Biggest Rival: Manchester City
Notable Celebrity Fans: Rory McIlroy, Usain Bolt, Justin Timberlake, Orlando Bloom, Sean Connery, Selena Gomez.
Reason to Pick Manchester United: They are the most prestigious, and most valuable, club in the league. According to Forbes, Man United ranks third behind Real Madrid and Barcelona as the most valuable sports franchises in the world ($2.8 billion). Despite a poor seventh place finish last season, they have won 12 EPL titles, and are always going to compete for the cup. Also, the new Chevrolet kits are pretty sweet that may draw you in.
Reason NOT to Pick Manchester United: They have been known as the New York Yankees of soccer for many years. Much of their success in the 2000s came from being a lot wealthier than the other league members. United used to be the bandwagon club everyone would jump on, until their sister club Man City came along to quiet United’s reign.
Nickname: The Magpies, or The Toon
Stadium: St. James Park (52,405)
Top Players: Fabricio Coloccini, Cheick Tiote, Tim Krul, Yoan Gouffran, Moussa Sissoko.
Biggest Rival: Sunderland
Notable Celebrity Fans: Sting (singer), Brian Johnson, Tony Blair, Janick Gers, Mark Knopfler.
Reason to Pick Newcastle: If you don’t want to pick a team at the top of the standings, yet will manage to hang around near the top eight. I almost didn’t include Newcastle, but some could relate to them. They are kind of the “bad boys” of the Premier League, so if you are a fan of the Oakland Raiders, this is the club for you.
Reason NOT to Pick Newcastle: The reason I just described. If you want a team who will compete for a championship, or you’re like me and hate the Raiders, don’t pick Newcastle. They always manage to bring in quality French players, then sell them to richer teams, meaning they have the weakest starting 11 than any other club in this list.
Stadium: White Hart Lane (36,284)
Top Players: Michael Dawson, Hugo Lloris, Erik Lamela, Emmanuel Adebayor, Aaron Lennon.
Biggest Rival: Arsenal
Notable Celebrity Fans: Adele, Jerry Springer, Steve Nash, Bob Marley, Salman Rushdie.
Reason to Pick Spurs: They find a way to compete at the top of the table. Spurs have finished fifth and sixth, respectively, the past two years, despite not having a ton of talent. They have an awesome sounding name — Tottenham Hotspur just has a unique ring to it — and are the only club to be sponsored by Under Armour.
Reason NOT to Pick Spurs: They haven’t won a league title since the 60’s, and have a reputation of letting their top players go. (See: Bale, Gareth; Keane, Robbie). Choosing them will be eventful to say the least. You’ll have a good chance of seeing them play European football, but it will be stressful as the selling process begins all over again.
My choice: Chelsea
I was immediately drawn to the Blues, and have decided to select them as my Premier League club to support. Yes, they have a controversial owner, but I can look past that. I really like what Chelsea has to offer on the field, building up young talent, while also having the ability to get expensive players on the transfer network.
Picked your team out? I’d love to know who you selected. And remember, matches begin on Aug. 16, with the majority of them airing on NBC Sports Network. You can view the full TV schedule here: http://prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com/2014/07/16/premier-league-2014-15-tv-schedule-for-nbc-sports-group/