What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
For those of you who don’t know (read that as “Americans”), the reason why the English Premier League is the most popular sports league on the planet is rather simple… it has predictable unpredictability. What I mean by that is while you can almost always count on the same usual suspects at the top of the table, you just never know in which order they will end up. You also never know who will end up as the surprise team with dreams of Europe, and some club we didn’t expect will suffer the fate of relegation. This weekend brought us the beginning of yet another Premier League campaign and the excitement, controversy, and wonder it brings are certain to follow. Having said that, with the first weekend in the books, let’s take a look what this rest of this season promises to bring; those with title hopes, those with Champions League and Europa visions, and those who will end up fighting for their Premier League lives. Perhaps I can even make this make sense to Americans.
Last year ‘s relegation victims were Burnley, Hull City, and Queen’s Park Rangers. And as it is wont to happen, you know at least one of those teams will pop back up to the Premier League. It saddens me to see a season with none of Steve Bruce’s antics along the touch line; sadder still is that I don’t think Hull City can be that team to immediately return to the top flight. Granted, there is always pressure on the relegated sides to make a hasty return, but for Hull City, it may take a bit more than Bruce’s usual magic.
The Hull manager has won three promotions from the Championship, but this club has lost it’s big guns. James Chester, Robbie Brady, Liam Rosenior, Paul McShane, and Tom Ince have left, and Dame N’Doye is headed to Turkish Süper Lig side Trabzonspor. Not to mention, Abel Hernández could be gone soon as well. Hull hangs a lot of hope on the return of Robert Snodgrass, and that he can be a factor after suffering a serious knee injury that has kept him out for over a year. To be honest, there’s stronger contenders than Hull for earning promotion.
This club just missed promotion due to the choke-job they pulled in the play-off final to Norwich City last season. To that end, manager Aitor Karanka improved the team by signing Stewart Downing from West Ham United. Downing’s presence should lessen the blow from losing Lee Tomlin, but Middlesborough will still need to account for the absence of Patrick Bamford up front?
2) Ipswich Town
This team will have no problems with its attack. Daryl Murphy notched 27 goals last season while forming a productive partnership with Freddie Sears. Add the threat of David McGoldrick (when healthy), the signing of Jonathan Douglas is a good signing from Brentford, manager Mick McCarthy’s club promises to make a return to the promotion discussion.
3) Derby County
Derby offers us an enigma. They could look like the best side in the division under manager under Steve McClaren, then they pulled gag-jobs in the play-off final to Queen’s Park Rangers two years ago and followed that with an implosion on the final day of last season. That 3-0 defeat by Reading meant that a side who were contenders for automatic promotion ended up finishing eighth. New manager Paul Clement seems to be the guy who can fix that considering he’s been on the staff at world powers like Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid.
4) Wolverhampton Wanderers
Manager Kenny Jackett has more experience in the lower leagues than does Derby’s Clement, and he’s got weapons like Benik Afobe and Nouha Dicko. The Wanderers cannot be taken lightly.
The other side which just came down from the Premier League, and another side which can’t be ignored. Sean Dyche has not taken long to prove that he is a highly capable manager who knows how to get the best out of a talented group of players.
Leicester City were the only promoted team to keep their place in the Premier League last season, and it took a minor miracle to do it. That begs the question…Can AFC Bournemouth, Watford, and/or Norwich replicate that feat? Those three clubs share a common thread. None of their managers have led a team in England’s top league prior to this. The last time that happened was five years ago, It’s not a common occurrence, although the same did happen five years ago when Chris Hughton of Newcastle United, Roberto di Matteo of West Bromwich Albion, and Ian Holloway of Blackpool all won promotion from the Championship. This year it’s the same scenario with Eddie Howe of AFC Bournemouth, Alex Neil of Norwich City, and Quique Flores at Watford all leading their sides to England’s top flight.
Over the past few seasons at least one “established ” Premiership team has suffered relegation. This season it could be more than one “usual suspect” in the English top flight who could get the drop. In any event, the teams that narrowly avoided relegation last season (I’m looking at you Leicester City and Newcastle United) should be wary of the three competitive sides that just came up.
The popular opinion is the Cherries don’t stand a chance, but I’m not inclined to bet against a club who has made such a climb in such a short time. Based on last season’s performances, they look well-suited for top-flight survival placed to survive in the Premier League. They’ve also added to their arsenal by putting alongside Callum Wilson in the attacking ranks talent like Max Gradel and Yann Kermorgant, who scored more goals in the second half of the 2014-2015 season than any other player in France’s top flight. At 27, Gradel leaves Leeds United in his prime and offers versatility for the Cherries’ attack, along with Lee Tomlin and loaner Christian Atsu. Added to Tyrone Mings and Sylvian Distin, this blend of youth and experience means AFC Bournemouth should have a decent chance of seeing a second top flight season.
2) Norwich City
Despite having the most recent Premier League experience of these three clubs, the Canaries face the longest odds for survival. Despite a comfortable victory over Middlesborough in the play-off final and the fact Alex Neil has performed wonders since arriving at Carrow Road, the young Scottish faces a major challenge in the top flight. Norwich City remained quiet during the transfer window until they dropped some coin for Robbie Brady. The U-21 international was the sole England player to emerge from the European Championship this summer with any respectability, earning a place in UEFA’s team of the tournament. They have the thinnest roster of the three, which makes a trip back to the Championship come May more likely than not.
The Hornets also look to be in a healthy position, as manager Quique Flores has been given plenty of financial muscle to flex in the transfer market. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Watford has done just that. The arrival of Étienne Capoue won’t charge the batteries of fans who only know him from his time at Tottenham Hotspur, but he will fit with Flores’ approach quite nicely. The French international signed for Spurs on the back of a sensational campaign for Toulouse in 2012-13. But the leisurely pace at which he plays never fit the culture at White Hart Lane, especially once Mauricio Pochettino became Tottenham’s manager. Capoue’s presence in the midfield can only help Almen Abdi push into the offensive zone further forward. Allan Nyom and José Holebas add quality to the defense. Sebastian Prödl and Valon Behrami represent depth and international experience. The final piece is captain Troy Deeney who has scored 45 league goals in the last two seasons. The Hornets can plan on nesting in the Premier League again in 2016.
Winning the Champions League is the penultimate of European football. It’s like winning the Super Bowl while having threesome with two supermodels of your choosing on a giant pile of $100 bills. In fact, the Champions League final passed the Super Bowl as the world’s most watched single-day sporting event about ten years ago. But you can’t get to the “big dance” unless you get an invite, and for English teams, that means finishing in the “Top Four” of the Premier League. Having said that, here’s our Top Four.
When the Gunners finally beat Chelsea in the Community Shield, everybody went crazy. Finally, Arsene Wegner defeated his arch-rival Jose Mourinho for the first time, and now the big Frenchman can honestly claim to have a team capable of winning the title. Now everybody who piled on the Arsenal bad-wagon are snapping ankles in droves jumping off after that bizarre loss at the hands of the Hammers. Don’t worry, they’ll be back. No matter how good or bad a team is, they will always have one day were everything goes right, and they will have one where everything is just a giant shit-heap. Arsenal just had their “shit-heap” game, and they will be back on top in no time.
The Blues are the defending league champion, and they suffered no major talent loss in the transfer period. They legitimately could be a 1A/1B with Arsenal. The Big Blue Machine will continue to roll at Stamford Bridge with Jose Mourinho at the controls. Chelsea should expect to see some sort of trophy at year’s end, along with another trip to the Champions League.
3) Manchester City
Even with some flux in the Citizens are once again a serious threat to take the title. Sure, I know Edin Dzeko has all but bought his ticket on the next train out of town, but the addition of Raheem Sterling more than makes up for that. The only problem is Man City is a side built in the European style of stockpiling talent and caring little for personal makeup; in this case I’m not sure they have any “fight” in them. For Americans, this means they remind me of the Denver Broncos; a team that get called a “finesse” team which lacks the ability to punch somebody in the mouth when they need to. That’s the best way I can think of to describe Man City and unfortunately, the Premier League is exceptionally unforgiving to teams which lack the character to fight.
4) Manchester United
Be it a Fortune 500 company or football, managers create cultures. I’ve always wondered why when ever I see retired Man U legend Sir Alex Ferguson sitting in the stands at Old Trafford, he looks like he would fancy strangling current Red Devil manager Louis Van Gaal. The fact that Van Gaal got Man U back in the Champions League notwithstanding, you can see it on Ferguson’s face that Van Gaal’s style puts a burr up his tailpipe. Under Sir Alex, Old Trafford was home to a regimented style of football which valued strong defense. Van Gaal couldn’t even spell “defense” if you spotted him the “d,” the “f,” and every “e.” Van Gaal continues to turn a blind eye to anything resembling “defending.”’ and the soap opera revolving around Spanish keeper David De Gea is becoming bizarre. Van Gaal keeps telling De Gea “there’s a place for him with Man U,” all while he is leaving De Gea off the squad, playing other every young keeper he can find, all while romancing Ajax keeper Jasper Cillessen. The Red Devils still need another striker and quality defenders, but this team will be formidable nonetheless…and weird.
If the Champions League is the ultimate for European soccer, then the Europa League is a horrible consolation prize. If this were American college basketball, the Europa League would be the NIT Tournament. It’s a good competition for clubs on the rise, so long as they use it to keep the climb going. But if you are a supporter of a club that seems to always be in the Europa League (Liverpool fans like myself…), it’s time to face facts. Your club is the 35-year old guy who still works at McDonald’s. Sure, he might have made to to assistant manager, but he still drives home in a 1993 Ford Taurus in clothes that stink of cooking oil. That guy’s entire life, like your club, is a monument to bad decisions and lowered expectations.
There are a lot of people who disagree with me; they honestly believe Europa is a worthy competition. Once in while, yes. But having five Europa titles (Liverpool, I’m looking at you...) is sort of like being the minor-league home run champ. When you are in the Champions League, you are playing big clubs who will draw crowds in major European cities. When you are in the Europa League, you get to play a lot of “power” clubs like Viktoria Plzen and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in some post-communist, Eastern European shithole that knows more about radioactivity than it does indoor plumbing. Oh, and you’ll do it in front in a stadium with about 846 fans in it.
That’s why when you come home from a Champions League match, you are bringing a nice fat check. When you come home from a Europa League match, you need a tetanus shot. Teams raked at 5,6, and 7 are our picks to suffer just such a European fate, although there’s a shit load of ways to qualify for Europa. That means anybody ranked 8,9, or even 10 has a shot to end up in that shit storm.
Until further notice, the Liverpudlians are chalked in for a 5th place finish. Manager Brendan Rodgers spent £121 million in the off-season to avoid another crash out of both European competitions like we saw last year, or the stumble off the chase for the Premier League title in 2014 (raise your hand if you remember Liverpool blowing a three goal lead against Crystal Palace, which effectively destroyed their chances to win the league).
It’s hard not to love the addition of Christian Benteke (even if you think £32.5 million is as bit steep) and Roberto Firmino; there’s no way those moves don’t improve the team. But I’m still left with my disdain of Martin Skrtel, and I’m left trusting Simon Mignolet in goal.
Here’s where it gets personal.
Despite Manchester United’s run of dominance in the Ferguson era, Liverpool is still the most-decorated club in the history of English football. But we are nearing the decade mark since Liverpool has bagged a major trophy. Liverpool hasn’t won a domestic league title since 1990, they haven’t won the Europa League since 2001, or the Champions League since 2005.
Then, there’s the matter of Brendan Rodgers. Brendan…it pains me to say this…but I may be the last supporter you have left.
Sure, I can point out that as a manager, you’ve been a winner every where you’ve been. The exception was that short stint at Reading, but that was your taking a job with the club you played for, and at the time it was like being named captain of the Titanic 20 minutes after it hit the ice. You somehow managed to save Watford from relegation in 2009, you led Swansea to being the first Welsh team in the Premiership, and I was genuinely excited to have you come to Liverpool.
Flash the clock forward to March 2014. This was when all of Anfield started to believe. The Reds went on a tear, winning 11 matches in row and finding the club at the top of the table. Brendan, your style of keeping possession of the ball with a flowing passing game clearly was working as Liverpool scored over 100 goals that season. Then came the blown lead at Crystal Palace, costing us the Premier League title.
Then came the crippling draw with FC Basel, which knocked us out of the Champions League.
Then came to the long march of shame home from Turkey after being eliminated from the Europa League at the hands of Besiktas. Sure, it’s easy to blame some of that on the sudden need to part ways with Luis “The Bite” Suarez, and that might even be somewhat credible, but it doesn’t explain away everything. There’s still the matter of a shabby defense, which contributes to shoddy goalkeeping. And don’t think we all didn’t see you ready to substitute for Phillipe Coutinho literally seconds before he score the winner at Stoke on Sunday.
All of that taken into account, you’ve managed to do something in your first three years as manager that hasn’t happened since 1950. You’ve won absolutely nothing. Not one damn thing. That’s why the supporters are bailing on you, Brendan. That’s why you need to win something NOW. Anything. Just do it now.
A Premier League title and all the sins of the past will be forgiven. But I don’t think that is in the cards. Getting back into the Champions League by winning the Europa League would definitely do it. Playing in Wembley in May and hoisting an FA Cup would work. Hell, even a League Cup would suffice at this point.
In the immortal words of Al Davis “Just win, baby.”
6) Tottenham Hotspur
Someday, my tombstone is going to read “No really, this is the year the Spurs finally break through.” It will say that because it seems like I’ve been saying that for eons now. I can’t be the only one who has been waiting for this moment to finally come. Tottenham has got the talent; they just need to play like it. Hugo Lloris is world-class goalkeeper. Harry Kane is the next big all-England star. But the Spurs still could use another stud in the stable. They can still win without making such a move, but that means they will have limited depth. And like Liverpool before them, they also will suffer from the Europa League effect.
7) Swansea City
Here’s a team who could exemplify the “Europa Effect.” Unlike Liverpool or Tottenham, Swansea doesn’t deserve to have it’s dreams die like Napoleon’s did in the snow in some Russian piss-dump. Swansea is not chronically mediocre or constantly under-performing. The Welsh side has made a home for themselves in the top flight, and under manager Gary Monk Swansea passed their way last season to a Top 8 finish and their highest point total ever. To that success, they’ve added some talent, they don’t have any crippling holes, and they have a flair for the surprising. In other words, don’t be surprised if they sneak their way into Europe.
8) Crystal Palace
Alan Pardew is a difference maker, but nobody wants to admit that because he’s an asshat. One of these days, he’s going to head-butt the wrong guy and get his ass handed to him right there on the touch line. Newcastle nearly crumbled back to the Championship last year after he left St. James Park. Once he arrived at the Palace, he led them on a miraculous late season tear which saw Palace go from skirting relegation to a mid-table finish. Pardew’s team isn’t the most talented, and isn’t the toughest, but this team will prove to be a test for opponents over the long haul. Pardew gets results and his team will prove to be the biggest wild-card in the Premiership; they could finish fifth, or they could finish fifteenth. Your guess is as good as ours.
9) Stoke City
Say what you will, Stoke will prove to be a formidable side all season long. Europe is not out of the question, so long as things go right for manager Mark Hughes’ side. Charlie Adam must produce all season long. Spanish forward Bojan got new help in the form of fellow Spaniard Joselu. defender Philipp Wollscheid was purchased after his loan from Bayern Leverkusen. In other words, Stoke reloaded for another potential shot at Europe. The Potters main problem is they have a maddening tendency to drop points.
If Tottenham is the club you always want to think is finally going to break out, then Roberto Martinez would be the manager who should finally make a move up the success ladder. There’s no good reason why the Toffees finished 11th last year. Martinez is a talented manager, and he’s got a team full of hard workers and proficient players. If this club doesn’t make a serious run for Europe, it may be time to run for another direction.
This is my term for the teams who will finish in the bottom of half of the table, but who should not be in any danger of falling into the “drop zone.” They are like a like a yo-yo with no string.. They aren’t going up, and they aren’t going down. If you are familiar with the Premier League, you may see a few “usual suspects” on this list.
11) West Ham
You have no idea how much it depresses my that I’m going to slog through a Premiership campaign with no Steve Bruce and no Sam Allardyce. “Big Sam” will no longer patrol the Hammers’ touch line, having been replaced by Croatian Slaven Bilić, who most recently led Besiktas on its’ drubbing of Liverpool in last year’s Europa League. “Big Sam” was certainly happy to get out of West Ham, and Bilić was happy to get there.
The bottom line: Bilić plays a European style which works well in Europe; just ask Liverpool. but it won’t play for 38 Premier League matches, which is why the Hammers can’t finish in the top half.
This team could finish in the top half if it weren’t for the “Europa League” effect. This team did well in the transfer window, but has no shot at the Champions League unless they win Europa this year. Not to mention, this is the club all Liverpool fans watch to see where our young players for next year are coming from.
13) West Bromwich Albion
This team goes as far as Saido Berahino takes them. If he has the talent manager Tony Pulis keeps telling us he has, the Baggies have a shot at the top half. But it’s not likely, if for no other reason than the Premiership has too many teams with more talent than the Brummies.
14) Newcastle United
Get your jokes ready now…they all start with The Magpies having two games left int the season, and end with Newcastle somehow avoiding relegation again. They certainly looked like they were headed down last year after the Alan Pardew disaster, in which they fired him, appointed his assistant and only avoided the drop on the final day of the season. I believe new manager Steve McLaren can has a club built to at least stay in the top flight, but only time will tell.
Watford doesn’t have a history of sustained success in the league; they’ve been up and down several times over the years, but that might be about to change. This is a confident club with an experienced manager in Quique Flores, Watford has the best chance of the promoted teams to stay up. These last four teams all have the similar flaws. A lack of established players, three are newly promoted and one has I suspect Howe’s management prowess will lead to them narrowly avoiding relegation whilst the other 3 are in for an extremely tough year.
As is the program in a league with relegation, the teams who finish in the bottom three spots get set down to the Championship. Here’s our list for the most likely suspects… .
The kings of surviving, Sunderland sacked their manager with ten games left last year, then enjoyed the typical short-term upswing in results. That led them to keep Dutchman Dick Advocaat in charge, even after he said that Sunderland needs “to have a clear idea of what they’re doing, a philosophy.” That’s hardly a ringing endorsement from your boss. On the pitch, Sunderland will depend on Advocaat’s fellow nederlander Jeremain Lens and the high-priced Jermain Defoe to produce up front, and the signings of Younes Kaboul, John O’Shea, and Wes Brown to keep this club out of the drop zone.
17) AFC Bournemouth
After the aforementioned stunning rise to the top flight of English football, AFC Bournemouth is in the Premier League for the first time ever. Obviously, AFC Bournemouth will certainly be the Cinderella story of the season; their rise from the depths of League football to being now amongst the best England has to offer. Top that off with the fact the Cherries feature an entertaining brand of football, this club promises to capture a whole new fan base.
With Swansea as the notable exception, promoted clubs rarely do well playing free-flowing, attacking football in their first season in the Premiership. AFC Bournemouth base their play around ball possession and pass accuracy, both categories in which they led the Championship last season. They won the league,scoring a stunning total of 98 goals, but their solid defensive record – only Middlesborough conceded fewer goals – was often overlooked.
18) Aston Villa
Villa was on a “Bataan Death March” to relegation before manager Tim Sherwood managed to turn things around. The Villains survived relegation by 3 points last year and Sherwood was the key to that survival. While their Premiership campaign was dismal, somehow this club ended up in the FA Cup final. Sherwood heads into this season likely to depend heavily on Emmanuel Adebayor, Rudy Gestede, and rising star Jack Grealish. They also have £40m to spend on reinforcements. However, none of that can completely offset the loss of Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph, and Ron Vlaar. Not to mention, given what Villa has already added, it’s understandable why they could be mistaken for a French team. Idrissa Gueye, Jordans Amavi, Jordan Veretout, and Jordan Ayew have all impressed in France’s Ligue 1, but depending on French players is like trusting a dentist who sells miniature ivory statues.
Bottom line: Villa gets relegated.
19) Leicester City
Leicester City is the quintessential football “feel-good” story. This club represents all those “blue-collar” values we love so much in America; they’re “hard working, physical, “lunch box” sort of guys. The problem is they just aren’t very good, and having the best player in Esteban Cambiasso hit the traill for Greek side Olympiacos doesn’t help. But the biggest problem Leicester faces is somebody fired up the “Wayback Machine” and headed back to the days when new manager Claudio Ranieri was relevant. Not even the most delusional Leicester supporter could think that was a good decision. Staying in the Premier League again will require a miracle.
20) Norwich City
Couple a poor start with a dearth of top flight talent, and there’s almost no way the Canaries finish out of the drop zone. The real bet for Norwich City is an over/under on total points. I’ll set the bet at 34.5.