Wanna get into soccer but need a team? No problem – Barstool’s Guide to Picking an EPL Club (v. 2020/21)

Sam's Safe Space For Soccer Stoolies

Hi haters™,

WELCOME BACK YOU BEAUTIFUL BABIES! It feels like just yesterday that I was publishing last year’s version of this blog. City fans were sitting pretty as defending Premier League champs. Bournemouth and Watford fans were feeling good about another mid-table finish. Tottenham fans were disappointed by losing the Champions League final but excited about where the club was headed. Human beings were going to games and high-fiving strangers without a care in the world.

My, oh my how things have changed.

But here is what has not changed: I am still here and as committed as ever to recruiting more people to fall in love with the beautiful game. I’ve found that one great way to help non-fans become casual fans and casual fans become hardcore hipster fans is by assisting them in finding a team of their very own to love, and cherish, and sometimes hate, but to always care about.

So, do you or anybody know fit the following description:

- Do you like sports?

- Do you like drama?

- Do you like money?

- Do you like an excuse to drink before noon?

If you and/or they would say yes to any ONE of these questions then congratulations! You/they are ripe for becoming an EPL fan. Now comes the hard but fun part: picking a team – and not just any team, but YOUR team that you can get balls deep into, root for, and care about because – unlike American sports where we are often born (or accepted, in the case of college) into your various athletic affiliations – picking a European soccer “club” to "support" (as a eurosnob would say) is more challenging. You are in luck, though, as your Sissy Sport Spirit Guide Samuel is here to lend you a helping hand in this endeavor.

Safe harbor statement #1: Yes, I ran something similar the last few years but this one has been updated accordingly…

Safe harbor statement #2: Yes, I also encourage you to follow MLS, as the quality is improving every year, but you don't need my help picking a team as you have plenty of geographic and or matri/patrilineal landmarks to guide you.

Safe harbor statement #3: No, you can’t go wrong going with a club in Spain or Italy or Germany or PSG or Ajax instead (or better yet as well)… but, alas, I am only one man so for the purposes of keeping this to a reasonable length we are going to stick with…

PICKING A PREMIER LEAGUE CLUB

First things first, taking the initial step and admitting you like soccer is the hardest part, so if that is why you are reading this then congratulations! Thankfully you picked a great time to hop on board the bandwagon. This is mostly because there is no such thing as a bad time to start getting into soccer – it is, after all, the best sport ever invented – but also because the likes of NBC, ESPN(+), Fox, BeIN, Univision, Telemundo and others have made following the beautiful game easier than it has ever been.

So now that the hard part is done, how should you actually go about falling in love with a club?

The MOST IMPORTANT advice I can give you is to NOT pick a team today… or tomorrow… or perhaps even next week. Take some time. Talk to people. Watch games. Read stuff. Let a team win you over. Maybe it was an exciting game you witnessed. Maybe it is a specific player you fall in love with. Maybe you find out that several of friends (or classmates/coworkers) are fans of Team X, so you can either become a fan of Team X or Team’s X’s arch-nemesis – depending on whether you would prefer to root with or against them. 

Implied in that is the message that this “guide” is not meant to be the first and last word on picking a team. It is rather meant to be just one of many resources available to help you in your journey to fandom.

One factor some people forget about (albeit only important if you plan on actually visiting the UK and going to a game: geography. Here is a little map to keep in mind of where all 20 clubs in the Premier League are located.

Another more philosophical question you should ask yourself is how important are little niceties like “scoring goals” and “winning games”, not to mention “lifting trophies”. This is important because – despite what some people may think given high-profile Cinderella stories like Lester City a few seasons back – the Premier League is NOT a level playing field. Salary caps? Nope. Luxury taxes? Hell no. Money makes the world go round and nowhere is that more true than in English soccer.

Giphy Images.

Point being, there is a reason why a large majority of fans in the US end up settling on one of the Big Six clubs (eg, Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Man United) – and there is nothing wrong with that. People generally like winning and dislike losing. That’s human nature. And like it or not, it is tough for a new fan to get into a sport where you wake up at the crack of dawn every Saturday or Sunday morning just to watch your team get its dick kicked in over and over. So you will never ever EVER hear me shame anyone about what team they have decided to support. If it is Man City (winners of two out the last three titles) or defending champs Liverpool – so be it. If that’s what it takes to get more people into soccer then I am all for it.

Not everybody prefers taking the path of least resistance, of course. For example, I have a friend who recently became a massive Sunderland fan… only to see them get relegated from the Premier League into the Championship one season, and from the Championship into League One the very next season. Life doesn’t come at you any faster than that. It takes a special kind of masochist to pick a team that you know going in has only an outside shot of lifting a trophy anytime soon… but more power to anybody with the balls and pain tolerance to go this route.

But those are the two extremes. In between the Man City’s and Sunderland’s of the world there are plenty of teams somewhere in the middle where their odds of making an exciting run to an FA Cup final (see Watford two seasons ago) are roughly the same as those that some transfers fall through and the club ends up fighting for their life to avoid relegation (see Watford last season… they failed). That unpredictable “danger factor” of not knowing how your season is going to go might be intriguing to some people.

[[DEEP BREATH]]

Okay. Now on to the meat & potatoes.

Every time I write this blog I always struggle with how to break the 20 clubs down into categories. This year was no exception. In the end I settled on two "halves" consisting of a lower 11 (where avoiding relegation is a solid season) and the top nine (who have at least some aspirations – however faint – of fighting for trophies).

*

LOWER “HALF”

Let’s be honest, there are some clubs are going to take a lot of L’s this season. Their primary “goal” is simply to avoid relegation and live to fight another year in the financially plentiful environs of the Premier League. As someone who is new to the sport, if you pick one of these to be your lawfully wedded club that suggests a couple things: you are extremely ballsy and/or a cutter (aka self-harmer) who is crying for help and in need of medical attention… or at least a hug.

There is no worse feeling in sports than watching your club get relegated. Perhaps it is something that we will get to see in MLS at some point in my lifetime, but at the moment it is a foreign concept to fans of US sports. It sucks. Just as Daniel.

Gone but not forgotten

Just know going in that if you choose a club in this group you need to be okay with draws feeling like wins and wins feeling a little like trophies, and accept that come next season there is a chance you won’t be able to watch your boys play on NBC family of networks anymore (though to be fair ESPN+ does a good job covering the Championship).

[Note: clubs will be listed in alphabetical order within each group and be followed by their odds of winning the league this season.]


ASTON VILLA (+50,000)
Location: Birmingham
Biggest rivals: Birmingham City (and West Brom)

The club was a founding member of the Premier League back in 1992 and has one of the country’s more impressive trophy cases but fell on hard times right around the time Randy Lerner – owner of the world-beating Cleveland Browns (irony!) – bought them in 2006. After years of barely staving off relegation the Grim Soccer Reaper finally came calling in 2015 when the once-proud club endured one of the most pitiful season’s in league history.

However, that was then and this is now, and the Villans are back in the big leagues. The club (recently sold by a Chinese billionaire to a group of Egyptian and American owners) has spent BIGLY over the past few seasons. This recent profligacy stands in stark contrast to a club from Birmingham, which is basically the British equivalent of Pittsburgh (if Pittsburgh was a lot bigger). If star power is your thing Villa has something to offer in Jack Grealish, a local kid who came up through their youth system and is in the midst of making the leap from potential starlet to legitimate star.

Giphy Images.

Fun fact: Tom Hanks is a genuine Aston Villa fan so there's that.


BRIGHTON (+50,000)
Location: South coast (south of London)
Biggest rivals: Crystal Palace (and Portsmouth)

The Seagulls have avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth three seasons running ever since making the jump from the Championship, which is not a big surprise for a club that has spent much of its existence in the lower divisions. The club doesn’t spend a ton of money but have a track record of doing more with less, and manager Graham Potter plays a brand of footy that is surprisingly easy on the eyes. If you like blue and white teams that don’t necessarily score a lot but will work their asses off… then perhaps Brighton is for you.

Brett Carlsen. Getty Images.

If you are looking for other reasons why Brighton might be your speed, they are located on the south coast of England just across the channel from France so that’s pretty cool I guess, and are owned by Tony Bloom, who got filthy rich playing poker and betting on sports (among other things). Dude is like the Messi of degenerate gamblers.

Fun fact: Brighton’s full name is Brighton & Hove Albion FC, and the actual city they play in is “Brighton and Hove”. Unfortunately, as everybody knows, if you have two names you really have none… also, their name reminds me of Trinidad & Tobago and I am an easily triggered USMNT fanboy so, yes, I will admit to having an entirely undeserved and unfair distaste for the Seagulls.


BURNLEY (+50,000)
Location: Lancashire (just north of Manchester and west of Leeds)
Biggest rivals: Backburn and Bolton

Manager Sean Dyche has cemented Burnley in the middle of the table in recent years based largely on grit, determination and defense. The club has made a recent habit of drawing games they should have lost and winning games they should have drawn on their way to finished 7th and 10th the last two seasons. How sustainable this kind of overachievement with very little investment from ownership is remains to be seen. If you appreciate dogged defense, pitchers’ duels and/or Big Ten football, then Burnley might just be the club for you. They have few if any stars but make up for it with a ginger coach.

Giphy Images.

Fun fact: Burnley’s color scheme and jerseys are often confused by n00bs for those of West Ham… but in actuality they were contrived of in 1910 as homage to Aston Villa, which at the time was the most dominant club in all the land… ahhhhhh, memories


CRYSTAL PALACE (+50,000)
Location: South London
Biggest rivals: Brighton (and Millwall)

The Eagles had been a club on the rise for several seasons but things feel a little unsettled at the moment as the squad is aging and their biggest star, Wilfried Zaha, has made it no secret that he wants to be sold like yesterday. Rooting for Palace is a little like being a fan of a Lebron-led Cleveland Cavs (ripip) or a Ronny-led Portugal – except that instead of lifting championship trophies/Euro Cups, your ultimate goal is sipping that sweet, sweet taste of avoiding relegation. The big question is, as it has been for several seasons in a row, whether a bigger club like Everton or even Arsenal will swoop in and buy Zaha… which will raise inevitable questions about who will step up for Palace in his place. The best/worst thing about being a fan of the club is getting to play one of the world’s most fun (and dangerous) drinking games, which involves taking a shot every time Christian Benteke fucks up. On the plus side, Palace is located in the (greater) London area so traveling to see them is convenient – plus they are one of the few clubs in the league with cheerleaders and the Selhurst Park game day experience is supposed to be one of the best in the league (assuming a planned redevelopment doesn’t ruin it). Oh, and not for nothing, the Eagles are Rebecca Lowe’s childhood team.

Fun fact: manager Roy Hodgson was born in the cretaceous period and more importantly plays a starring role in one of my all-time favorite gifs:


FULHAM (+50,000)
Location: West London
Biggest rivals: Chelsea, QPR and Brentford

Most Americans who has been around the EPL for a while inevitably have a soft spot in their heart for Fulhamerica – so nicknamed because of all the USMNT players who have graced the field at Craven Cottage (one of the league's oldest and most historic stadiums) over the years. Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra, Kasey Keller, Eddie Lewis, Eddie Johnson and Marcus Hahnemann are the names that come to mind off the top of my head. Tim Ream and now Antonee Robinson have continued the “special relationship”. So point being if you love – and I mean LOVE – America and would like to pick a London team for convenience reasons, then Fulhamerica may be the club for you.

Unlike when they earned promotion two years ago and spent their balls off (only to be terrible), management is not spending big this time around and instead relying more on the guys who brought them up. TBD how it works out but this season seems like it could be a bit of a struggle for the Cottagers.

Fun fact: Fulham is owned by Shahid Khan, who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars… so if we got any northern Florida men (and women) looking to get into the beautiful game, this is the team for you!

LEEDS (+15,000)
Location: Yorkshire (middle north)
Biggest rivals: United (and Chelsea)

Big club with a rich history but two important things to know about them: [1] for a reason that I still don’t fully understand they are despised by pretty much everyone else in England and [2] Leeds became the posterchild for what can happen if a club spends beyond their means as the club went from playing in the Champions League semifinals in 2001 to declaring bankruptcy five years later, an episode that sent them down to League One. This season marks their first official return to the big boy league since that episode played out, so needless to say fans are pretty excited.

So that’s the history. As far as the here and now goes, they have one of the most interesting managers in the world in Marcelo Bielsa, a quirky Argentinian who has developed a cult following while achieving success at non-traditional powerhouse clubs all around the world.

Leeds have a lot of interesting players, led by homegrown midfielder Kalvin Phillips, and an ownership group with deep pockets who have shown a willingness to spend. Lots of reasons to be interested in choosing Leeds as your club… as long as you don’t mind being hated on by random Brits. The present day Houston Astros – in the wake of the cheating scandal –  are perhaps a decent comparison here in the US, though the hate for them is a little more straightforward.

Fun fact: Leeds nickname is The Whites, which may prove problematic in the year of our lord 2020.


NEWCASTLE (+50,000)
Location: Southeast Scotland (basically)
Biggest rivals: Sunderland

The Magpies have a rich history of success and more trophies than most clubs but more recently has made a habit of enjoying a resplendent season or two before immediately collapsing into a spectacular pile of relegated feces – in large part because of their waste-of-space owner Mike Ashley. In fact, if you are looking to buy low on a club with a lot of potential, the only thing standing – or waddling – in the way of Newcastle knocking on the door of the Big Six (like Everton) is Ashley, who has spent years bleeding the club dry of money and investing the bare minimum in the squad. The club has ALMOST been sold a handful of times in recent years, including a supposed offer from a Saudi Arabian group that would have instantly turned Newcastle into Man City (aka a big spender) on steroids. Unfortunately the deal apparently fell through so who knows if/when Ashley will finally sell.

Last season manager Steve Bruce, who had tried and failed at a handful of EPL clubs, took over from local legend Rafa Benitez and actually did a surprisingly solid job. The team has a solid core led by some exciting midfielders (eg, Miggy Almiron and Allan Saint-Maxim) but have had trouble scoring for several years running. Long story short: if you are willing to take a bit of a gamble that a new owner is eventually installed, Newcastle is an iconic club with a dedicated fan base that – when not getting relegated – is easy to root for (don’t tell Sunderland fans I said that) and the gameday experience of attending a match at St. James is about as good as it gets.

Fun fact: the club has one of the most straightforward and iconic jerseys around and, unlike Juventus, found a way not to get confused with referees by silly Americans while also not totally ruining their look.


SHEFFIELD UTD (+50,000)
Location: South Yorkshire (middle north)
Biggest rivals: Sheffield Wednesday

The Blades have one of the coolest nicknames in the league and are riding a recent wave of success driven by a group of Saudi owners that bought a majority stake in the club in 2013, whose (relatively) sizable investment helped push them from League One to the Championship and now Premier League. Newly promoted clubs typically pursue one of two strategies. One is to spend their balls off and hope it goes well. Sometimes it does (eg, Wolves) and sometimes it really, reeeeeally does not (eg, Fulham in 2018-19). Either way it is high risk, high reward approach. Sheffield has gone the other route, not spending much money changing/improving the squad and instead hoping that continuity will be enough to keep them up. Bold strategy, but incredibly it has worked out surprisingly well so far as Chris Wilder has gotten the best out of his low-cost roster by instilling a team-first approach. They are fresh off a remarkably impressive 9th place finish and are hoping to ride the momentum and stick around a while.

Giphy Images.

Fun fact: Sheffield won the league once and finished runners-up twice… in 1898, 1897 and 1900, respectively. They also won the FA Cup in 1899, 1902, 1915 and 1925. Not a bad run. Unfortunately they haven’t won a single trophy since. (No word on banners.) Blue balls like you read about. 

 


 

SOUTHAMPTON (+25,000)
Location: South coast (SW of London)
Biggest rivals: Portsmouth

The Saints were  the gold standard for upper mid-table mediocrity for many years, which believe it or not is a big compliment in Premier League vernacular. However, years and years (and years) of watching their most talented players (and coaches – eg, Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino) poached by the likes of Liverpool, Spurs and United finally came home to roost and the club spent a couple seasons staving off relegation before manager Ralph Hasenhuttl (from RB Leipzig) came in and righted the ship. It remains to be seen whether he can legitimately turn things around and pull the club back towards the soothing safety of mid-table or if the possibility of relegation begins to look more like an inevitability, but the team plays a high-tempo, high-press style that is high-risk/high-reward and usually pretty fun to watch. Geographically, the club are an attractively located on the south coast of England not far from London and aesthetically they have some of the more pleasing jerseys in the league – assuming they promise never to bring back these ugly ass alternate abominations.

Fun fact: Southampton have precisely one trophy to their name – the 1976 FA Cup – so nobody will accuse you of being a glory-hunter if you become a Saints fan.

 


 

WEST BROM (+100,000)
Location: West Midlands
Biggest rivals: Aston Villa and Wolves

The Baggies were one of the original founding members of the Football League in 1888, the club won plenty of trophies back when the world was black and white (including five FA Cups) but hasn’t lifted anything since 1968. More recently they have bounced between the top and second division, which may leave fans longing for the seasons in which manager Tony Pulis would parked the bus, bore everybody to tears and finish somewhere between 10th and 14th place. Fast forward to today and the club has been bought by a rich Chinese billionaire (lot of that going around recently) who has so far eschewed the lavish spending style of some peers, instead relying on youth and bargain bin transfer targets.

Fun fact: manager Slaven Bilic gets my vote as world’s most intimidating coach (just ahead of Diego Simeone)

Giphy Images.

 


 

WEST HAM (+50,000)
Location: East London
Biggest rivals: Millwall,  Tottenham and their own shadow

The club represents the traditionally hardscrabble East End of London full of blue collar fans who don’t need beautiful play but won’t tolerate a lack of hustle, desire and grit. For any American football fans in the house, Hammers’ long-time captain Mark Noble and Danny Woodhead are essentially sports brothers from other mothers. That said, things are changing – at least a little bit. The club recently moved from the historic (but small) Upton Park to the massive (but sterile) environs of London Stadium. This brought an influx of cash that to their credit management has not never been shy about spending, though it does come at the cost of losing a little of West Ham’s identity. Some long-time fans may disagree with me about that, which is fine, but it is what it is.

There is an imperfect but sufficiently appropriate parallel between West Ham and a team like the New York Mets in that they are big city teams that are perpetually overshadowed by cross-town rivals and often seem allergic to success. The parallels don’t stop there unfortunately as the Hammies also have a habit of spending way too much on a lot of big names who never seem to work out. Guys like Felipe Anderson and Pablo Fornals (among many others) aren’t exactly Bobby Bonilla-level busts but the list of disappointing transfer flops is long and distinguished. David Moyes was bought back in for his second stint in recent years. Perhaps he can rediscover the mojo that helped him lead Everton to punch well above its weight for a decade… though his less successful stints at other clubs do not exactly build confidence. Long story short: big club, lots of history but perpetual underachievers.

Fun fact: rooting for West Ham means you are (tangentially) associating with the Green Street Hooligans of Elijah Wood movie lore, which is in fact a fictional group based on the machinations of the Inter City Firm, one of the more infamous groups of European soccer hooligans.


<<<<<< HALFTIME >>>>>>

Now back to the blog…


UPPER “HALF”

Money talks and (most of) the Big Six – especially the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea – are not afraid to do a lot of “talking” to protect what they see as their rightful Champions League slots. This year I’m graduating some upstarts into this group because, for various reasons and in various ways, they have been making moves and deserve a little extra respect. It remains to be seen if they can stick around upper echelon with clubs that have a lot more spending power… but credit to them for forcing themselves into the conversation in the first place.

The good news is that picking one of these clubs means you can count on plenty of winning. The bad news is that picking one of the traditional heavyweights – particularly City, Liverpool, United and to a lesser extent Chelsea – means you will inevitably be on the receiving end of some ribbing for being a “frontrunner”.

Incidentally, my advice to anyone wanting to pick one of these teams: ignore tf out of anyone giving you shit about it. I have a ton of respect for anyone picking a lesser club and sticking with it, but let’s be serious: losing sucks. Especially for total n00bs, if picking a team that wins more than they lose is going keep you connected to the sport, then just do it and tell anyone chirping to go eff themselves.


 

ARSENAL (+3,300)
Location: North London
Biggest rivals: Tottenham; Samuel Army; Chelsea
Notable fans: Justin Bieber; Queen Elizabeth and Prince Harry; Demi Moore; Keanu Reeves; Jay-Z; Puff Daddy; Mick Jagger; Piers Morgan; Kevin Costner; Lindsey Horan; Mikey/Zah; Joel Embiid

The Gunners were known for playing an aesthetically pleasing brand of soccer under long-time manager Arsene Wenger that was easy on the eyes, and for many years was the closest thing that the EPL had to the tiki-taka play of Barrrrrrrrrthelona. That was then and this is now, however, as the club has struggled to compete for a number of years in a row now. Mikel Arteta – a long time player for the club – was brought in last season after serving as an understudy to Pep Guardiola at City for several years, and early results indicate that he may have the club headed in the right direction. Arsenal finished above their hated local rival Tottenham for like 30 years in a row but this dip in form plus Spurs’ recent ascendency and has resulted in a (temporary?) shift in the balance of power in North London.

Arsenal are nevertheless a club with a decent history of success (especially in the FA Cup), with deep pockets (on the rare occasion their American-led owner Stan Kroenke opens the purse strings) and a world class attacking duo in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. They also have a core of young talent that could help the Gunners develop into a legitimate contender in a couple years. Defense… well, let’s just say that is a work in process. So if you like goals, this is the club for you. Recipe for excitement? Definitely. Recipe for winning? TBD.

Fun fact: Arsenal are (supposedly) the only club in existence that has never been relegated and, for whatever reason, is one of the few clubs in world soccer with a recognizable mascot.


 

CHELSEA (+1,000)
Location: West London
Biggest rival: Arsenal; Tottenham
Notable fans: Justin Bieber; Michael Caine; Simon Pegg; Sienna Miller; Will Ferrell; Billy Idol; Martin Tyler; Gordon Ramsey; Bill Clinton; Larry Nance Jr.

Textbook example of a club transformed by a new owner with incredibly deep pockets who is not shy about spending ridiculous sums of money to win… which has been absolutely fantastic for fans – as long as they are willing to not ask questions about where all that money came from. The “new” owner in question is Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch with uncomfortably close ties to Vladimir Putin who (magically) amassed a fortune through questionable means and, after purchasing the West London club in 2003, immediately transformed it from also-ran to big-spending contender. Unfortunately some of the shadiness may have caught up to him in 2018 as the UK authorities decided not to renew his visa meaning he is no longer a welcome visitor to watch his beloved Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge.

Nice little place to hide out in case, oh idk, the authorities kick you out of the country for being a shady ass shadeball

Annnnnnnnyway, the thing about “new money” people is that they often don’t know how to handle success, and that has always been the case with Chelsea. The club has been on a serious rollercoaster in recent seasons, winning the title one season then finishing in the middle of the pack the next, with the one constant being that fans should not get too attached to whoever the manager is because he ain’t gonna be there long. That may be set to change going forward though after club legend Frank Lampard was hired prior to last season… but we’ll see. Abramovich has a notoriously itchy trigger finger when it comes to firing coaches.

Point being, the club runs extremely hot and cold. If you are the type of person who loves a feisty relationship – lots of drama, plenty of yelling, great make-up sex – then Chelsea may just be your soulmate.

After several quiet years Abramovich apparently sold a couple super yachts because Chelsea went on a buying SPREE this summer, buying just about every big name player on the market, which has raised expectations sky high. We’ll see how that works out. Either way I haven’t even mentioned the single best thing about the club: Christian Pulisic – aka The Babyjesus – emerged as one of their best players last season so love the Blues or hate them, every single game is must-watch television as long as our beautiful baby boy is playing for them.

Fun fact: the team was once one of the most easily hateable in the league thanks to guys like John Terry and Diego Costa, but even I find it hard to dislike guys like N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Mason Mount, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech… and of course The Babyjesus.

 


EVERTON (+20,000)
Location: Liverpool
Biggest rivals: Liverpool
Notable fans: Paul McCartney; Matt Damon; Sylvester Stallone; Dolph Lundgren; John McEnroe

Always and forever the other Liverpool club. The Toffees’ motto is “Usually good. Sometimes bad. Every now and again very good. Never great.” (If it isn’t then it should be.) The Toffees have been caught in what feels like a perpetual state of middle-to-upper-middle-class limbo lately, having established themselves as clearly better than most of the league, yet also clearly not good enough to make a Tottenham-like jump into the ranks of the true movers and shakers (aka “The Big Six”). They have been knocking on the door for years and have not been shy about spending money, but unfortunately many personnel decisions haven’t worked out. That said they have a very solid fan base, and a connection with the US thanks largely to Tim Howard’s 10-year run (2006 to 2016). If you are looking for a club outside of the usual suspects that has a chance to win silverware and – should things seriously break their way – may eventually break through into the upper echelon… you could do worse than Everton. After all, they have once again made some big-time statements of intent in the transfer market this summer bringing in James Rodriguez from Real Madrid and Allan from Napoli in a much-needed refresh of their lethargic midfield.

However, an important word of warning: keep your head on a swivel with this club. They are notorious for taking what feels like a big step forward but, before having time to celebrate the achievement, they have already taken another step back. There is beauty in the frustration though – or so Everton fans (have no choice but to) believe.

Fun fact: Their (“friendly”) arch-nemesis is cross-town rival Liverpool, so if you know and/or dislike some fans of the Reds then the Toffees might be an ideal club to glom onto.


LESTER (+15,000)
Location: Leicester (East Midlands)
Biggest rivals: Nottingham Forest and Derby County
Notable fans: Gary Lineker, Engelbert Humperdinck; Arlo White

Four years removed from one of the most preposterous yet miraculous seasons in the history of sports, they have done an admirable job of translating that success (and the money that came with it) into a solid foundation among the upper middle class of EPL clubs. Most of the key pieces from that Cinderella squad have moved on. Claudio Ranieri was fired less than a year after lifting the damn trophy – modern sports in a nutshell – while N’Golo Kante (Chelsea), Danny Drinkwater (Chelsea), Riyad Mahrez (City) and Harry Maguire (United) have been poached by bigger swinging dicks, and a handful of others have retired or moved on. They still have Golden Boot winner Jamie Vardy running amok up top and Kasper Schmeichel holding it down in back, but for the most part this is a new squad that is focused on cementing the club’s “well to do” status and, if possible, snagging a Europe League – or possibly even Champions League – spot. Manager Brendan Rodgers has done an A+ job keeping things rolling forward relatively smoothly.

Fun fact: a lot of people inevitably jumped on the Foxes’ bandwagon during (or soon after) the championship season, but the good news (for anyone concerned about being labelled a “frontrunner”) is that the glory from that has faded enough that you can safely climb aboard without catching any grief at this point..

Like sex, I have no idea what this feels like

LIVERPOOL (+225)
Location: Liverpool
Biggest rival: Everton and United
Notable fans: Samuel L. Jackson; Brad Pitt; Elvis Costello; Dr. Dre; Mike Myers; Liam Neeson; Daniel Craig; Caroline Wozniacki; Steve Kerr; Lebron James (part-owner)

Ah, Liverpool. A lot of their fans used to be convinced that I hated the club. They thought that is because I had the audacity to speak the truth about how good their team was – which, prior to a couple seasons ago, was not nearly good enough to compete for the league title. That changed recently as manager Jurgen Klopp came in (from Dortmund), added some world class talents like Mo Salah and Virgil Van Djik through a combination of shrewd deals and big spending, and the team finally put it all together. They have now won the Champions League and EPL in consecutive seasons and suddenly Liverpool fans don’t seem to hate me nearly as much. Funny how that works.

As for the club itself, Liverpool was a serious force throughout the 1980s when they were in the mix year in and year out. I’m sure there are some good parallels American sports teams – the Dallas Cowboys is one that comes to mind – but the club had taken several steps back in the decades since (aside from a miraculous Champions League run in 2005 and Luis Suarez-powered second place finish in the EPL in 2013-14). More recently though the club has spent big – and wisely – bringing in Herr Klopp to run things and spending incredibly wisely. The club has emerged as a well-oiled machine and remains one of the best in the world.

Fun fact: Liverpool has a strong connection to the Boston area and are owned by Fenway Sports Group, so if you like the Red Sox or perhaps Messr. John Feitelberg – who bleeds red – then perhaps Liverpool is the club for you.


 

[MANCHESTER] CITY (-125)
Location: Manchester (NW England)
Biggest rival: United, OPEC
Notable fans: Aaron Rodgers; Gallagher brothers (Oasis); Ricky Hatton; Timothy Dalton (bad Bond); Alex Caruso

The Sky Blues spent many years serving as the dedicated whipping boy for crosstown rival United. The club has been the "other" Manchester team for so long that most Americans probably still think of them as that even after they've now won the EPL (basically) every other season for much of the last decade. In fact, deep down in their soul, lifelong City fans still probably think of themselves as the scrappy underdogs. Here’s the thing though: they ain’t. Things changed and changed quickly for City after they were bought by a Middle Eastern sheikh in 2009, who immediately injected untold sums of money into the team. This – along with poaching manager Pep Guardiola from Bayern a few years ago – has established them firmly among the league favorites year in and year out.

Calling a spade a spade, the club (even more so than Chelsea) is now the league’s biggest "new money" team, which is somewhat ironic given how long City toiled as the unloved, underfunded little brother of United. Year in and year out the club has splurged on big-money signings but to their credit – and rather unlike their hated crosstown rival – they have consistently spent wisely, and Pep has managed to massage all (or most) of the big egos, such that they have rightly claimed to be the cream of the EPL crop… until Liverpool knocked them off their perch last season. That begs two questions: can City fix their defense and bounce back to leapfrog Liverpool and – perhaps more importantly (to their ownership anyway) – can finally make some noise in the Champions League where the club have consistently shit the bed. The club’s recent “win” in reversing a transfer ban tied to (highly) questionable financial machinations will be a weight off their shoulders… and perhaps spending interests.

Fun fact: City owns New York City FC, a semi-recent addition to MLS, so any newly minted soccer fans in the metro region could easily pull a twofer by becoming a fans of City and NYCFC – though that means you must be prepared to explain why playing soccer on a ridiculously skinny field at Yankee Stadium is not as dumb as everybody else in the world seems to think it is.


[MANCHESTER] UNITED (+1,600)
Location: Manchester (northwest England)
Biggest rivals: City; Liverpool
Notable fans: Russell Crowe; Roger Moore (meh Bond); Sean Connery (best Bond); Usain Bolt; Harry Styles; Rory McIlroy; Megan Fox; Manny Pacquiao; Than Shwe (ex-Commander of Burmese Military Junta)

The Red Devils have not been a threat to win the league – something their fans used to expect every season – for a number of years, which has taken some of the sheen off the club that for many years were the gold standard for Premier League excellence.

Even so, United represent the bluest of blue bloods in world soccer thanks in no small part to smart marketing moves back in the 1990s when they became the first European soccer club to tickle America’s balls (and bathe in the glorious monetary fruits of said labor) by entering into a cross-licensing arrangement with an American team – the New York Yankees, of course – which makes a lot of sense given that both teams have glorious histories (and aren’t afraid to tell you about them). A better sports analogy, though, is that United were essentially the New England Patriots of the EPL except that their Scottish Bill Belichik (aka Sir Alex Ferguson) retired in 2013, after which the soccer club has been in a relative tailspin. Like any entity with more money than god, the club has responded by trying to spend its way back to respectability, but several managers (David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and even Jozay Mourinho) largely shat the bed and got canned.

For the first time in a while, though, things are legitimately looking up. Years from now the £47-million acquisition of playmaker Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon in January may be looked back on as a turning point, as United has looked like a totally different club – in a good way. They have a lot of good young attacking talent, an increasingly solid midfield but are in need of some upgrades on defense. 

Regardless, picking United as your team means there will always usually be in the mix for wins and trophies, though with all that spending (and history) comes high expectations that have proven particularly difficult to live up to lately.

Fun fact: there are TONS of United fans in the U.S., both because they have been so good for so long and have thus received more TV exposure here than any other club. As such, finding a local watering hole that is full of fellow United fans come game time is never very difficult.

 


 

TOTTENHAM (+5,000)
Location: North London
Biggest rival: Arsenal; Chelsea; success
Notable fans: Adelle; Arsenal Fan TV; Pierce Brosnan (bad Bond); Phil Collins; JK Rowling; Steve Nash; Jude Law; John Cena; Wayne Gretzky (maybe); Steve Nash; Samuel Army

Not a club for the faint of heart. Spurs have contended for the league title – or “put the pressure on” – several times in recent seasons and came a controversial handball away from potentially winning the Champions League just last spring.

Yet despite being one of the better and most entertaining clubs to watch over the last decade, they have precisely ZERO trophies to show for it. In other words, the club finds a way to ruin things even after enjoying one their best runs of form in a long, longgggggggg time. That, as they say, is Spursy. The last trophy they won was really a “trinket” (aka the Make-Beleague Cup) in 2008. The last actual legitimate trophy the club won was back in…………. wait for it………….. 1991.

Prepare to see this graphic A LOT if you pick Tottenham

That said, Tottenham have a bright shiny new (insanely expensive) stadium designed to cement their place among the league’s upper crust clubs, and a very good (but not great) roster of players led by one of the sport’s most recognizable managers in Jozay Mourinho. The team doesn’t look quite good enough heading into this season to legitimately compete for trophies but are at least on a four-year streak of finishing above blood rivals Arsenal and have a good young(ish) core to build on – if Daniel Levy opens the check book.

Fun fact: fans are collectively known as the Yid Army (long story but, yes, it does relate to Judaism – or Jewishness?) so you could decide to support them simply for the jokes… unfortunately the joke would be on you, however, because as mentioned the team always – ALWAYS – finds a way to screw it up.

S instead of Z = quintessential Spurs

 


WOLVERHAMPTON (+20,000)
Location: West Midlands (near Birmingham)
Biggest rivals: West Brom and Walsall (and Aston Villa)
Notable fans: Mark Hamill; Robert Plant

Wolves (aka the Wanderers) have bounced between divisions a lot over the last few decades but things may have changed in 2016 when got bought by Fosun International, a Chinese conglomerate that has been – depending on who you talk to – innovative or sneaky with how they have built the club. Basically, Fosun partnered with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes in an arrangement that some suggest involves skirting rules governing how players can be bought and sold. Love it or hate it, there is no denying there is a faint waft of controversy surrounding the club… just like there is no denying that whatever special sauce they are using is working and working well since they have been flirting with a top four finish the last couple of years. If you like risk, if you like danger, if you like pushing the rules a bit then perhaps Wolves is the club for you.

As far as playing style, Wolves are a hard-nosed yet fun team to watch, and have plenty of class and several genuine difference makers in Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore. The big question mark is whether they can stay healthy because the roster is nowhere near as deep as all the other clubs in the “top half”.

Fun facts: if you are Portuguese or have a thing for Portugal then this is DEFINITELY the club for you as 75% of the team – including manager Nuno Espirito Santo – and 100% of their new acquisitions are from Portugal (and/or speak fluent Portuguese).



And there we have it. If you know anybody who needs a little help getting into soccer feel free to pass this along to them. Hopefully it will give their heart a little push in the right direction.

Programming alert: 2020/21 season preview/prediction blog dropping in a couple hours. 

Get pumped, blud fam, and stay tuned for plenty more content.

Holler,
Samuel Army