Friday, August 17, 2012

2012 - 2013 Barclays' Premier League Primer and Predictions!

For those of you unfamiliar with English soccer, the Barclays Premier League, aka English Premier League or EPL, is the top level of soccer in England.  It’s an easy league for Americans to follow and there are a number of good squads to choose from. Catching a match is easier than you think (ESPN, Fox Soccer Network, and the occasional live stream from some illegitimate website) and with the recent success of the US Women’s team in the Olympics and the USMNT victory over Mexico this week, why not give soccer a chance?

Here’s a quick rundown of how the season goes.  There are 20 teams that make up the league and they play each other twice (home and away) for a total of 38 matches a season per team. The top four finishers get the opportunity to play in The Champions League, which brings the top teams across each of the top European leagues (Spanish La Liga, English Premier League, German Bundesliga, and Italian Serie A to name the most popular) together for a tournament to determine the best club team in Europe.  It’s also the most prestigious and lucrative of all tournaments, so most teams are more concerned with making this tournament than actually winning the league.  To add another wrinkle, the bottom three finishers are RELEGATED to a lower division and the top three finishers in that division move up!  This would be like sending the Astros, Rockies (wow, didn’t know they were this bad), and the Twins to Triple A and bringing up the top three minor league teams.  I, for one, wished every league did this!  

The 20 teams in the EPL can easily be divided into Tiers:
Tier 1 – “Championship Contenders” – Usually 2 or 3 teams, the ones with the most money and are in to not only make Champions League, but compete for the league title.
Tier 2 – “Also Rans” – 4-5 very good, but not great teams, battling for that final Champions League spot.
Tier 3 – “Midtable” – 8-9 teams that are not going to challenge for a Champions League spot, but are just happy to stick around and play some competitive matches and not get relegated.
Tier 4 – “Relegation Fodder” – 4-5 teams that are in danger of getting relegated, which makes for high drama and comedy at the end of the season.  Often, this is more exciting that the actual championship race. 

I’m only covering 9 teams that I think you can actually follow or are worth looking into.  Here are my predictions of the finish of the bottom 11 teams in order from highest to lowest:

Stoke City, Swansea City, Norwich City, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Wigan Atletic, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United, Queens Park Rangers, Southhampton, Reading

Not that we got that out of the way, let’s take a deeper look at the remaining clubs:

Manchester United
Nickname: Red Devils
Grounds: Old Trafford
Shirt Sponsor: AON

The most storied club in England with a renowned manager in Sir (seriously SIR!) Alex Ferguson. He runs a tight ship at Old Trafford and it seems like they have a never-ending cycle of young players who can plug into the starting XI and get good results. United is by far the most popular team in England and probably the most popular sports franchise in the entire world.  The Red Devils are similar to the New York Yankees in terms of having a huge international fanbase, but are generally despised by all the supporters of other teams.  

Nickname: Gunners
Grounds: Emirates Stadium
Shirt Sponsor: Air Emirates

Arsenal is a storied franchise that plays in North London and are another extremely popular club with many fans across the world.  They also have a legendary manager in Arsene Wenger, a Frenchman who brought beautiful football to England back in the ‘90s that essentially revolutionized the game.  Arsenal has fallen on some “hard times” recently, having not won a major trophy in 7 years and seeing the exit of many of their star players, leading many to call them a “feeder team”.  However, Wenger has done a great job in bringing in new blood this offseason and will be looking to compete with the big boys of European soccer once again.

Nickname: Blues
Grounds: Stamford Bridge
Shirt Sponsor: Samsung

Purchased by a Russian billionaire in 2003 like it was a new summer home, owner Roman Abramovich quickly dropped 100 million pounds into his new toy to bring in new personnel. Since then, the West London squad has been a mainstay at the top of the table and is one of the more hated teams in the league.  Like Man City, the Blues have money and are not afraid to throw it around. They had a tough season last year, finishing 6th, but they made up for it by winning the Champions League over top German club, Bayern Munich.  They have also had a big offseason and will look to build upon their late season success.  

Nickname: Reds
Grounds: Anfield
Shirt Sponsor: Standard Chartered

Liverpool was recently purchased by New England Sports Ventures (the same owners of the Boston Red Sox) and has increased spending the past two years to get back into the top four after not qualifying for the Champions League for the last three seasons.  New boss Brendan Rogers hopes to return this proud club to its former glory after a disappointing 8th place finish last season. The Reds have a large and intense international fan base, and for some reason, most of my friends happen to be Liverpool fans.  

Manchester City
Nicknames: City, Citizens, Sky Blues
Grounds: Etihad Stadium
Shirt Sponsor: Etihad

The team that oil built, Manchester City was considered the little red-headed stepbrother to Manchester United before it was purchased by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008. Since then, ownership has sunk hundreds of millions of pounds into acquiring players from every corner of the world. The Citizens’ roster has so many stars and good players that their substitutes could beat half the league. If Manchester United is the New York Yankees of soccer, guess Manchester City can be the New York Mets -- if the Mets had money, bought really good players that panned out, and were owned by a Sheikh.  So yeah, they are nothing like the Mets.  Rooting for Man City would probably get people to call you a “bandwagon” fan, so tread carefully.  

Nicknames: Spurs, Lilywhites
Grounds: White Hart Lane
Shirt Sponsor:  Autonomy (HP)

Tottenham have played well as of late and finished fourth this past season, but because Chelsea won the Champions League, Tottenham will be excluded so that Chelsea can defend its title.  Another North London squad, they consider themselves “rivals” to their bigger, more popular, neighbor, Arsenal, but the rivalry has been fairly one-sided.  The Spurs are a smaller budget team than the five clubs listed above and will continue to play the underdog role under new manager (ex-Chelsea boss) Andre Villas-Boas. I am a Spurs supporter and would love to see the team make the jump to the next level and/or get purchased by a maple syrup or social media baron.  They are a great team to root for if you don't want to pick one of the more popular squads!

Newcastle United
Nicknames: Magpies, Toon
Grounds: St. James Park
Shirt Sponsor: Virgin Money

The Toon saw a major resurgence last year under Alan Pardew and will look to build on a 5th place finish. Newcastle has had its ups and downs the past few years, but is looking to join the handful of teams that compete for Champions League spots.  I think they are a real sleeper pick to do well and if they can fix some issues on their backline, you never know!

Nicknames: Toffees, Blues
Grounds: Goodison Park
Shirt Sponsor: Chang (Thai Beer Company)

Everton has always been known as the other club that plays in Liverpool and the two clubs have an intense rivalry.  Last year, they finished above Liverpool for the first time in a really long time. However, the team has some current financial troubles and will most likely not compete for a Champions League spot.  The reason I'm listing them here as a team you might consider rooting for is because their goalkeeper is American Tim Howard.  Also, Landon Donovan has done a couple of loan spells here and has performed admirably, which bodes well for American soccer.  I also love their new soccer kits, which you can read about here.

Nicknames: Cottagers, Whites
Grounds: Craven Cottage
Shirt Sponsor: FxPro

Fulham is another West London squad that also has a history of having Americans on their roster. Clint Dempsey currently plays for the Cottagers and was great for them last season.  The transfer window is still open and there are rumors that Dempsey might move to Liverpoool, which would be great for him, but awful for Fulham.  That being said, Fulham is a fun club to root for and while they might not compete for one of the top spots, they play competitive football and can surprise some teams.

Season Predictions

Face of a traitor
1. I'm predicting a title repeat. Manchester City is just too deep and coach Roberto Mancini has done a good job managing his stars and getting results.  They did not do much in the offseason, Jack Rodwell was the only real acquisition.  The return of Carlos Tevez could either bode well or lead to more drama in the front with Aguero, Balotelli, and Dzeko.  The team is really deep in the mid-field with Silva, Nasri, and Toure, and they have one of the premier goalkeepers in Joe Hart.

2. The other Manchester squad should give City a run for its money, but the whole year will revolve around newly acquired striker, Robin Van Persie.  RVP forced his way out of Arsenal this offseason and ended up moving to one of Arsenal's bitter rivals.  The former Gunner captain will add incredible depth to the Red Devils attack, which already includes Rooney and Welbeck.  With the addition of Shinji Kagawa, the team has a strong lineup of stars and youngsters in Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Young, Giggs, Scholes, Nani, and Valencia.  Goaltender David De Gea is still a bit of a question mark, but will have a strong backline in front of him.

3. Chelsea should finish 3rd after a strong offseason with the acquisitions of Oscar, Hazard, and Marin.  However, they did lose Didier Drogba, the man responsible for winning them the Champions League last year.  They will need to see improvements from Torres, Sturridge, Mata as well as strong years from veterans Terry, Cole and Cahill.  Coach Roberto Di Matteo had this squad performing very well at the end of the year and with new toys at his disposal, the Blues should move firmly into third.

4. Always the toughest spot to project, I think my preseason favorite to finish fourth is Arsenal.  Even with the loss of Robin Van Persie, I think that Arsene Wenger has brought in enough potential and talent to keep his squad in fourth.  Giroud, Podolski, and Cazorla will add much need firepower and creativity to a squad that was too dependent on RVP last season.  They will have strong midfielders in Walcott, Arteta, and Song and this could be the year that Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere actually contribute.  They have a decent backline with Vermaelen and Koscielny, but only time will tell if they have done enough to return to winning titles.

5. As the roster currently stands, I am giving fifth place to Liverpool.  I think new boss Brendan Rogers will help, but the most important thing is getting their new acquisitions and guys coming off injuries/suspensions up to speed.  Gerrard, Suarez, and Lucas need to be mainstays for the Reds and new guys Allen and Borini will help this team a lot.  The major question marks for Liverpool will be what they will get from Carroll, Henderson, and one of my favorite guys, Joe Cole.  All these guys have a shot at redemption and if they perform, this team can challenge for fourth.  However, the defense is aging and lacks depth, which could be a problem when they face top clubs.

6.  Tottenham is my team, so it pains me to put them in sixth, but that's how I feel going into this new year.  Spurs currently only have one "proven" striker in Defoe, they are losing one of their best players to Real Madrid in Modric, and Parker will be sidelined for a month with an Achilles injury.  With that said, they still have a strong midfield anchored by Bale, Van der Vaart, Sandro, and recently acquired Sigurdsson.  The defense should be stronger this year with Vertonghen, Dawson, Kaboul, and Walker, but we will see how they adjust to Andre Villas-Boas' tactics and strategy.  If the Spurs can acquire an additional striker and creative midfielder before the end of the transfer window, I would move them up, but right now, sixth is the right call.

7. Newcastle is incredibly dangerous up front with Ba and Cisse and have a reloaded midfield with newly acquired Ben Arfa and Anita.  They are a team that could really surprise, but their weakness in the back could be their biggest weakness.  Goalie Tim Krul, however, is one of the rising stars in the league and could prove to be a difference maker.

8. Everton would be hardpressed to finish seventh like last season having not done much in the offseason.  They will need another big year from Jelavic and they have a few good players at each position in Baines, Fellaini, Neville, Pienaar, and goalie Tim Howard, but this team isn't deep enough for a long season.

9.  Fulham still has Clint Dempsey and will need a big year from him to stay competitive.  They will also need more from Ruiz than what they got from him last season and will need Dembele and Diarra to continue their strong midfield play.  I see them finishing in the top half, but it could be a struggle, especially if Dempsey is sold in the transfer window.

There you have it.  The season starts tomorrow so get ready!  Arsenal and Sunderland are on ESPN tomorrow morning at 10AM EST.  Let's see how the Gunners move on now that RVP is no longer on the team.  Here's hoping for a draw!


Liverpool looks like Liverpool of last season... this could be a long EPL year for me... we need Dempsey PLEASE!

Chelsea wil repeat as Champions league and rising to 1st in the EPL

anything is possible, definitely saw some rust on United and City this past weekend!

These are the Premier League. Relatively strong opponents. In the above you can understand him everything. In , you can learn all the Premier League football shirt.

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