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Want to get into soccer but need a team? No problem – Barstool’s Guide to Picking an EPL Club

Sam’s Safe Space For Soccer Stoolies

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Hi haters,

WE DID IT, Y’ALL! We survived another World Cup-less summer and can now get busy fluffing our sportsboners in preparation for the bountiful spoils of a brand new season where anything is possible… or at least anything outside of Spurs lifting a trophy, which the last two years have officially confirmed will never happen in any of our lifetimes.

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Anyway, those of you already balls deep in love with jogo bonito will no doubt have begun the final countdown to Saturday’s Friday’s season opener pitting returning champions of 5th place Arsenal and post-midnight Cinderella Lester**, and for you the loyal reader I have some good news: the official preliminary tentative 2017-18 EPL season preview – complete with predictions galore that we can all laugh at me about come next spring – is in the works as we speak, and will be ready for consumption by your eyeballs sometime in the next day or two.

[**Out of respect for the Foxes’ miraculous achievement in 2015-16 I agreed to spell their name correctly last season but at the same time said that I’d continue to do so only as long as they finished in the top half of the table… alas, they did not. So welcome back, Lester.]

Now for the bad news: as much as I love each and every one of you long-time fans, this blog is not really meant for you. That is not to say you shouldn’t read it. Perhaps you may find parts slightly entertaining or even modestly illuminating. However, this particular post is for people who have yet come out to their friends and family as loud and proud soccer fans, and are just about ready to do so but are in need of picking an EPL team to call your own.

Are you wondering if you and/or somebody you know fit this description? Here’s a handy checklist of the necessary criteria:

1) Do you like sports?

2) Do you want an excuse to drink before noon?

If you or someone you know would say yes to these questions then congratulations! You are ripe for becoming an EPL fan… now comes the fun part: picking a team – and not just any team, but YOUR team that you can get into, root for, and care about because, unlike American sports where you are typically born (or sometimes accepted, in the case of college) into your various athletic affiliations, picking a European soccer “club” to “support” (as an uppity soccer dudebro would say) is a little more complicated. You are in luck, though, as your boy Samuel is here to lend you a hand.

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

Safe harbour statement #2: I encourage you to follow MLS as well, 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 harbour statement #3: you also can’t go wrong getting frisky with a club in Spain or Italy or Germany or PSG… but, alas, I am only one man so for the purposes of keeping this to a reasonable (hahaha fair warning: not even close) length we are going to stick with…

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PICKING AN EPL CLUB

First things first, you chose a good time to hop on board the bandwagon. The last two EPL champions have gone from barely fighting off relegation one season to lifting the trophy the next. Which goes to show that if 14th place Lester and 10th place Chelsea can turn things around from one year to the next and find a way to win the league, that means pretty much everybody is in contention (mathematically at least) to do so this season.

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Alas, “everybody” having a chance to win the league is a bit of an overstatement since Leicester’s run was a once-in-a-lifetime anomaly and Chelsea’s was built on a foundation of lies, anti-Americanism and illicit Russian money… but let’s pretend for a moment that that’s not the case and instead take a look at the 20 (or so) candidate clubs vying for your love and affection.

Here is how everybody finished last season:

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Sadly, or mercifully depending on your point of view, that meant saying hasta la byebye to Hull City, Middlesbrough and Dunderland… and in their place this season we have a bright and bubbly new crop of newly promoted clubs ripe and ready for the defiling: Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle.

Now onto the different buckets of teams to pick from, starting with those expected to struggle and finishing up with the biggest swinging dicks of the EPL cracker factory (plus Arsenal).

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ROUGH SLEDDING

Let’s just be honest, there are some clubs are going to take a lot of L’s this season, and whose 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 were to pick one of these to be your lawfully wedded club that would suggest a couple things: you are extremely ballsy and/or you are a cutter (aka self-harmer) who is crying for help and in need of medical attention.

Indeed, apart from learning that your favorite celebrity couple is breaking up,

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there is no more painful feeling in the world than watching your dearly beloved team get bitch-smacked (aka “relegated”) down to the Championship. So just know going in that if you choose a club in this group you need to be okay with draws feeling like wins and accept that come next season there is a good chance you won’t be able to watch your boys play on the NBC family of networks anymore (though ESPN’s recent purchase of the rights to the Championship [and League Cup] may make it a bit easier).

Given the recent success of relegation-threatened teams pulling 180s and “being good” the next season I’ll keep the number of also-rans to a minimum and include only HUDDERSFIELD and BURNLEY… though full credit to Burnley, which was in this group before last year but made a good go of it for much of the season before eventually fading to finish 16th.

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Apologies in advance to those of you – and I know there are a few – who are already fans of one of these clubs… condolences, but it is what it is.

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TOUGH MUDDLERS

These clubs will at time show bursts of class, and could potentially threaten to do something crazy like make a semi-finals of the make-believe League Cup, but unless lightning strikes thrice they will not be in the mix to win the league anytime soon. [Note: clubs will be listed in alphabetical order within each group and be followed by their odds of being crowned champions next May.]

BOURNEMOUTH (1000/1): an always interesting and often entertaining club to watch the last couple of seasons. Thanks to an influx of cash they dominated the Championship three seasons ago and have managed to more or less avoid being sucked into the relegation battle for most of their two seasons playing with the big boys, which is all the more impressive considering their tradition of getting bit HARD by the injury bug. Bringing in Nathan Ake and Jermain Defoe should help in the back and up front, respectively, though giving the aging striker (Defoe) a three-year contract deal carries a whiff of desperation. Assuming that they are due for some good fortune in terms of avoiding injuries they just might have the makings of a club that could begin establish itself as a reliable mid-table finisher… or we could be saying fare thee well come spring, whichever. Bonus fact: their nickname – the Cherries – is so bad it is actually good.

BRIGHTON (1500/1): could very easily be included in the “Rough Sledding” category above but credit to manager Chris Hughton – a long-time Tottenham soldier – for eschewing tradition and staying loyal to the players who got the club promoted last season rather than doing what most clubs do and benching (or selling) yesterday’s heroes and buying a bunch of foreign/young players [aka the “Watford plan”] and/or aging EPL veterans [aka the “QPR plan”]. Unfortunately there is a reason why most clubs don’t stay loyal and dance with the players that brung ya, but it will make them easy to root for this season… until the January transfer window when they ditch that plan and buy Jonny Evans, Ryan Shawcross, Tom Cleverley and any other United youth academy flameout they can get their hands on. Bonus fact: Brighton’s full name is Brighton & Hove Albion FC, and the actual city they play in is “Brighton and Hove”. Unfortunately everybody knows that if you have two names you really have none.

CRYSTAL PALACE (750/1): had been a club on the rise for several seasons but stumbled badly last year, requiring the services of perennial “fixer” Sam Allardyce just to (barely) avoid relegation. This begs serious questions about where it goes from here. Big Sam only coaches between the months of February and May, and spends the other eight months of the season creeping on fit young birds in Ibizan discotheques, but Palace did manage to bring in a competent replacement in Frank de Boer from Ajax. One niggling problem is that the club may not have the type of players to play the “attractive” style that de Boer prefers. The re-emergence of Yohan Cabaye, who this spring won the Hey-Remember-When-I-Used-To-Be-Really-Good-Oh-Right-It-Was-Just-Last-Season Award (presented by Eden Hazard) would be a massive boost in midfield, but just as important will be health and happiness of the two-man strike force of Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke who carried the team much of last year. Bonus fact: The club is one of the few in the league with cheerleaders plus it is located in the London area so traveling to see them is not all that tough, plus cheerleaders. Also,not for nothing, the Eagles are Rebecca Lowe’s childhood team.

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SWANSEA (1000/1): once again will be the only non-English team in the Premiership this year. So if you like rebels and/or Welsh people (despite the fact that nobody – not even the bloody English – can understand what the hell they are saying, ever) then Swansea may be the club for you. The club is not far removed from some impressive finishes but is coming off a shmershmortion of a season in which they hired and fired multiple managers – R.I.P. BBBB – and staved off relegation by the skin of their chinny chin chin with some “famous” ass-saving wins in the last month of the season. Add to that the fact the Swans seem likely to sell off their best remaining player in Gylfi Sigurdsson (to Everton) while waiting to do so until they don’t have any time in the transfer window to buy some replacements… and suffice to say I’d be slightly nervous if I were a Swans fan – let alone owner – at the moment. Bonus fact: Big Cat owns Swansea, anonymously of course.

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WATFORD (1500/1): kinda sorta considered another London-based club though in truth that’s a little like the Red Bulls claiming to be a New York-based team. Makes sense from a commercial perspective but real fans know better. Anyway, the Hornets have benefited from a recent influx of cash from a wealthy Italian owner, whose family also owns teams in Italy and Spain, which have a tendency to trade players among the various organizations (nice little fall-back in case one of them is facing relegation). New manager Marco Silva did an admirable job almost guiding Hull City out of the relegation zone last season, but giving him credit for that feels a little like giving Edward Smith kudos for not killing the 700 passengers who didn’t die on the Titanic. (Plus, Smith wins that comparison because – unlike Silva – he went down with the ship. Just the facts, folks.) Come to think of it, Watford is a little like that girlfriend who lives for drama, so much so that if things get a little too “comfortable” and things seem to be going a little “too well” than she will find a way to create needless chaos (ie, by firing Quique Sanchez Flores after he did a fine job maneuvering the ship around all icebergs during the 2015-16 season). So if you like rollercoasters that may or may not go off the rails then perhaps you and the Hornets are a match made in heaven. Bonus fact: Elton John is a lifelong fan, so if you like the Lion King as much as KFC (or “Rocket Man”) then perhaps this is the club for you.

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WEST BROM (1000/1): If Jeff Fisher shaved his mustache and was obsessed with track suits, he would be Tony Pulis. Whatever it takes to finish with the EPL equivalent of (8-8) or (7-9), Pulis will find a way to get that done. The club looked to have taken a miraculous step forward for the first two-thirds of last season right up until they hit the 40-point mark that traditionally means you are safe from relegation, after which the club may not have scored another goal all season. So if your dream in life is to achieve a position in middle management… or you are comfortable in a relationship where the highlight of your week is missionary sex with the lights off on Saturday night… or you order your steak well done… or you like pulp in your orange juice… or you drive a Dodge Stratus… or you prefer American cheese on your burger… then boy oh boy do I have the club for you: West Bromwich Albion! Bonus fact: I almost forgot to include WBA in last season’s “guide to picking a team” because they tend to be that boring… and also because I absolutely HATE Jonny Evans and any team he is associated with.

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Jonny Evans. What a plug.

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UNIQUE & SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE

LESTER (200/1): nobody has been through more ups and downs than the Foxes in recent seasons, and despite experiencing what can only be considered a serious disappointment of a season in 2016-17 the club still managed to make a off-brand-Cinderella run to within a whisker of beating Atletico Madrid and making the Champions League semi-finals (aka ‘Never Never Land’ to Arsenal fans). The club really belongs in the following “Legit Opponents” category but because I still can’t fully wrap my head around their extraordinary championship run I am keeping them separate. They still have a fair number of difference makers from that squad, including Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez (for the moment anyway), and while they still haven’t quite gotten over the loss of N’Golo Kante, they have brought in some interesting talent like Wilfred Ndidi, Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho. Ultimately, they should benefit from not having the distraction of playing in the Champions League this season, though it may be tough for some fans to settle back into comfortable mediocrity after the last couple years. Bonus fact: if you go with Lester be sure to get a tattoo commemorating the “magical” 2015-16 season to convince everybody you have always been a big fan.

Like sex, something I've accepted I'll never experience

Like sex, something I’ve accepted I’ll never experience

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LEGIT OPPONENTS

Below are clubs that have (more or less) established themselves in the top half of the 20-team EPL table year in and year out, and should at least contend for secondary trophies like FA and make-pretend League Cups as well as Europa League slots (5th through 7th-ish). The nice thing about going with one of these from a strategic perspective is that you wouldn’t have to deal with people giving you shit about picking a front-runner. On the flipside, the chances your team competes for the league title this year are pretty, pretty, prettaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy tiny.

EVERTON (80/1): is forever on the fringe of actually being in contention without ever taking the next step and doing so. Sadly, this could finally have been the season that the Toffees made the breakthrough and made a serious bid for top four had they found a way to hold onto Romelu Lukaku (and made a couple shrewd signings), but so far the club has accomplished neither, instead settling for saving Wayne Rooney from the glue factory. To be fair, they have a fair amount of talent and it’s hard not to respect manager Ronald Koeman (and Wayney Roo-Roo will bring much-needed experience and could be a useful deep-set playmaker), but at the moment they are in serious need making some important moves if they want to score a couple goals this season, let alone take a shot at top four. Bonus fact: when Fulham sank into the depths of the Championship in 2014, Everton took over as “America’s (Other) Team” thanks to the long-time presence of Tim Howard in net, as well as shorter stints by others like Don O Van. Those players are all gone now but the label will likely live on for a bit unless or until an EPL buys another relevant Americano… (though Newcastle and Stoke may have something to say about that.)

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NEWCASTLE (500/1): the club has a rich history of success and more trophies than most but recently has made a habit of enjoying a resplendent season or two before immediately collapsing into a spectacular pile of feces and getting relegated. Thankfully for anybody thinking about jumping on the Magpies’ bandwagon they are on the upswing of that cycle at the moment after having a stellar 2016-17 season in the Championship. They have a solid manager (former Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid man) Rafa Benitez and some exciting talent in guys like Ciaran Clark, Dwight Gayle and Christian Atsu. That said, despite being hated by a majority of Newcastle fans, owner Mike Ashley – a guy that makes Tottenham’s Daniel Levy look like a free-spending Middle Eastern princeling – is still at the helm so it is a good bet that however much the manager will want to spend on transfers, his budget will be one-fifth of that. This could be problematic since many of the team’s difference makers (including the three mentioned above) have experienced long unproductive stretches at the EPL level. That said, this could be a good team to latch onto if you – like me – are a big fan of DeAndre Yedlin, as I am excited to see how he looks on his second go-round on the big stage after a couple more years of seasoning. Bonus fact: despite the club’s tendency to tie up with some strange sponsors (“Wonga” anybody – whatever the hell that was?), they still have one of the most iconic jerseys in the game.

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If you call this a “kit” but don’t have an accent then, yes, you are indeed a wanker

SOUTHAMPTON (250/1): annual overachievers thanks to a brilliant youth system, smart spending and sound coaching, but are constantly watching their most talented players poached by the likes of Liverpool, Spurs and United. The loss of manager Ronald Koeman (and Mauricio Pochettino before him) has proven to be a big blow as the club fired Claude Puel this summer and his replacement, Mauricio Pellegrino, is already one of the favorites to be the first EPL coach to get the boot this season. What this all points to is the ridiculously high expectations the club engendered by consistently turning two dimes into a quarter, water into wine and (most miraculously) Rickie Lambert into a decent soccer player for a minute. The club is in a perpetual state of flux – albeit a far more productive one than that found at Watford – but this season is unlikely to mark any sort of departure from the never-ending cycle of develop then sell, develop then sell, develop then sell, rinse and repeat. The latest soon-to-be-big-money transfer is Virgil van Dijk, who seems likely to land somewhere else with the odds on favorite being Liverpool – especially if the Reds are awash in Coutinho cash. Once again it will be up to Southampton to spend wisely (not to mention quickly). Bonus fact: on the plus side you always get to watch them compete in the Europa League… for a couple weeks anyway.

STOKE (750/1): a club in disarray at the moment. The Potters spend decades meticulously building their reputation for playing the world’s ugliest brand of soccer by kicking, chasing, hacking, and most of all defending to the death… yet managing to finish solidly mid-table every damn season. [Fun fact: if David Stern were running the EPL, he would have made sure Danny Crawford & Co. did whatever took to get Stoke relegated years ago.] HOWEVER, after years of talking about a makeover the club actually went about doing just that over the last few transfer windows by bringing in guys like Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan Krkic and Saido Berahino…. which led to a disappointing season that culminated in a 13th place finish. This puts manager Mark Hughes, who may have been separated at birth from West Brom’s Tony Pulis, in a tough spot since lawd knows a slow start to this season would leave him itching to revert to the ugly-but-effective style that kept his job safe for the last five years but he may no longer have enough of the Phil Bardsley-like goons to make it work. Also, the loss of Marko Arnautovic (sold to West Ham) removes one of the club’s more dynamic – albeit mercurial – players, and begs the question of where the goals will come from this year. Bonus fact: The club also employs the services of American defender and youuuuuuuuuge Hillary Clinton fan Geoff Cameron.

Gone but not forgotten

Gone but not forgotten

WEST HAM (500/1): the Hammers began last season with 80/1 of winning the league, which (when stacked up against this year’s odds) should tell you just about everything you need to know about how 2016-17 turned out. I already called somebody’s season a shmershmortion so I won’t double up, but let’s just say that if West Ham fans were offered the option of going back and taking Plan B last summer, Planned Parenthood would see a significant uptick in quarterly revenues in the East London area. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, including losing Andre Ayew to a serious injury in the first game of the season and Dmitri Payet retreating to the French league long before Neymar made it cool. In fact, the only reason Slaven Bilic wasn’t fired is because nobody on the board had the balls to actually tell him (which to be honest is pretty understandable).

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Has killed for sport. Will do so again.

Has killed for sport. Will do so again.

In a more general sense though the Hammers have enough financial support (and a big new stadium) that – barring another conflagration of injuries and bad business – should mean avoiding relegation scraps. A lot of the moves the club has made this summer (ie, Joe Hart and 2019 MLS MVP Chicarita) feel like stopgaps that should buy a season or two of relative comfort and breathing room to develop and/or buy some younger talent, but that’s about it. Bonus 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.

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THE BIG SIX

Money makes the world go round, and the big six – especially the two Mancunian clubs – are not afraid to spend it to protect what they see as their rightful Champions League slots. [Note: I am only including Tottenham in that description in the hopes that Daniel Levy gets off his cheap ass and buys a much-needed right back at some point, like today.] So the good news is that picking one of these clubs means that you are setting yourself up for a lot of winning this season, next season, and pretty much every season. The bad news is that picking one of these teams – particularly Chelsea, City or United – means you will inevitably be on the receiving end of some ribbing for being a frontrunner… much like somebody who comes to America and decides to be a Yankees or Cowboys or Lakers fan (orrrrrrrrrrrrrrr the exact opposite, but you know what I mean).

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ARSENAL (11/1): the Gunners have traditionally played an aesthetically pleasing brand of soccer that is easy on the eyes, and is perhaps the closest thing that the EPL has to the tiki-taka play of Barrrrrrrrrthelona. At least that had been their modus operandi but in recent years the annual decimation of their midfield core has forced them to play a little less beautifully. What’s more, last season aside, the club is usually in the mix for the league title, and after slow starts (that inevitably lead to calls for long-time manager Arsene Venger to be fired) they tend to finish just strong enough to stoke the embers of hope for fans that “next season” might finally be the one in which the consummate bridesmaid finally becomes the bride. (Last season the club actually shit the bed down the stretch but Venger – soccer’s answer to the indestructible cockroach – paid Chelsea to take a dive in the FA Cup final, lifting a trophy and giving Arsenal’s absentee owner reason to keep him around a while longer… yet again.) The club is also incredibly consistent in the Champions League where they have made a habit of always – always – losing in the same round every… single… season.

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The good news is Arsenal found a way not to crash out at the same place this coming season, the bad news is it took finishing in 5th place and playing Spursday night games on crap fields in Eastern Europe to do it. Getting down to brass tax though, the club is facing its greatest period of uncertainty in recent memory. Venger is still on the hot seat and two of the club’s best players – Mesut Ozil and Lexi Sanchez – have yet to commit their futures to the Gunners. On the other hand, recent purchases of beefy defender Sead Kolasinac and classy striker Alexandre Lacazette were good moves to fill major holes.

Biggest rivals: Tottenham; Chelsea
Notable fans: Justin Bieber; Queen Elizabeth and Prince Harry; Demi Moore; Keanu Reeves; Jay-Z; Puff Daddy; Mick Jagger; Piers M