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The LL Premier League Mid-Year Primer

Are you ready for some football?

He knows.
He knows.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The winter months are upon us and the days grow ever-darker and shorter.  It is the time of year where the mind wanders and seeks new hobbies and things to hold the attention.  Enter the veritable mastermind combination of Brendan Gawlowski and David Skiba to give you yet another sport to care about.  The English Premier League is now fully available for consumption in the US market and as such, we found it prudent to not only provide a small soccer primer, but also to anoint MLB comparisons on each of the twenty squads currently battling it out in the 2015/16 season.

Now is as good a time as any to jump on and pick a team to care about, so long as you are willing to meet 7 AM wakeup calls and prepare for a new sort of heartache.  The holidays bring a compact schedule where one will no longer have to wait a week between matches, but instead be treated to a game every four or five days for weeks to come.  You'll learn the names of your favorite and least favorite players quickly, and you might even figure out what "offsides" means.  Good luck, you’ll need it.

The EPL was formed in 1992 as the newest form of the Top Tier of English soccer, which dates back all the way to Preston North End's championship in the inaugural 1888-89 campaign.  If legacy and history sway your choice of a team to follow, only four current clubs in the EPL are Founding Clubs: Aston Villa, Everton, Stoke City, and West Bromwich Albion.  The modern EPL has seen five different champions, with titles being won 13 times by Manchester United, 4 for Chelsea, 3 for Arsenal, 2 by Manchester City, and 1 for Blackburn Rovers.  The up-to-date EPL table is pasted below and here you'll find a map of all the current teams in the league.

One thing that may be unfamiliar to most new fans, and certainly raises the stakes of the EPL is the concept of "Promotion and Relegation".  There are multiple tiers of English soccer, like most European nations, and teams can climb up and down this ladder by league positioning over the course of the year.  In the EPL, the bottom three teams (positions 20, 19, and 18) are sent down to the level below, called the Championship.  The top two teams from the Championship are automatically sent up, while positions 3,4,5, and 6 enter a playoff for the final spot.  This means every year there are three new teams and three eliminated clubs come August and the new season.  Don’t lose your lover.

Keep in mind that a win merits three points, a loss no points, and a tie one point for each squad.  Table positioning is determined first by points, then goal difference.

With the preamble out of the way, here's the good stuff: all 20 squads and their MLB parallels.

Arsenal; Cardinals (Skeebs)

Without a doubt the team playing the sexiest football in the league currently, this team is bound to fall flat of their ultimate ambition, winning the Title.  The Gunners under Arsene Wenger are (in)famous for failing to claim the title they so covet.  A team that in recent memory was known for assembling the Invincibles, the only EPL squad to not lose for an entire season.  Think about that.

Like the Cardinals, we know that Arsenal will compete every season.  We know they will be there at the end.  But we are also pretty sure they just won’t quite make it.  Enough to keep the fanbase rabid, enough to entertain the neutral, but not enough to hoist the trophy.  Arsenal boasts likely the two best players in the entire league, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, who are made of diamond dust and not actual human fiber, yet without a reliable frontman in the mercurial Olivier Giroud, one wonders what their chances are this year, yet again.

Aston Villa; Brewers (Brendan)

Ever-present and rarely relevant, both teams have been horrible to watch recently. Under Paul Lambert last season, the Villains were held to
11 goals in their first 22 matches, a pace that would have shattered the previous record for goalscoring futility had a late season charge not pushed them all the way to 31. The Brewers treated their fans to similarly poor baseball to start 2015, stumbling to a 2-13 record out of the blocks. Like Lambert, manager Ron Roenicke was sacked before the end of the campaign. In Milwaukee and Birmingham, the fans are loud and loyal and deserve better than what they’ll get in the next few seasons. Relevance is a distant dream and it gets awful cold in the winter.

Bournemouth; Seattle Pilots (Brendan)

Like no other team, AFC Bournemouth resists simple categorification. The Cherries are 125 years old and yet 2015 marks their first stint in England’s top flight. Hell, prior to their promotion from League One in 2013, Bournemouth had only been as high as the second division once before. Playing in a city smaller than Tacoma at a stadium with fewer seats than most buses, Bournemouth is punching above its weight with a surprisingly competent attack and a generous heap of pixie dust.

Rescued from bankruptcy just a few years ago, the ragtag outfit of the league might as well have been spawned by Disney. Bournemouth’s leading scorer, Callum Wilson, was plucked from a hapless League One club just two years ago; now he’s leading the line in the world’s best league. From two levels further down the pyramid came midfielder Harry Arter, who had plied his trade at Working F.C. prior to joining Bournemouth. Actually, he played for
Woking, but you trusted me the first time because nobody has ever heard of either team. Bournemouth also hired one of the best players in club history to manage at the ripe age of 31, and it actually worked.

None of these things happen in baseball, and there’s no compelling analog in MLB right now. We thus turn to history’s Seattle Pilots. No, Bournemouth won’t head to spring training next year without a home destination in mind. Like the Pilots though, they’re gonna be in the league for just the one year, so enjoy them while you can. Don’t worry, they’ll be back before you know it, and better than ever when they (re)arrive. But like Seattle in 1969, Bournemouth isn’t ready for this and the club will take its lumps all year before scuttling off the big stage for awhile.

Chelsea; Red Sox (Skeebs)

The team you can never take your eyes off with a famously insufferable coach (more fitting in the Francona days) and a team stocked with talent this is equal parts capable of the magisterial and incapable of anything but looking shell-shocked.  Jose Mourinho, the "Chosen One", and his team have had the worst start to a season of any title-winning team in Premier League history.  There will be goals.  There will be drama.  Every Chelsea match promises to entertain the neutral fan, but in all honesty, everyone is hoping they go down 4-3.

If anything, the best part of a Chelsea loss is watching their fans take it.  The loud and boisterous traveling support of the Blues is a source of pride, and a silent section of their visiting fans can always make you smile.  Boy, do I love watching Red Sox fans lose.

Crystal Palace; Pirates (Skeebs)

Crystal Palace find themselves in the midst of a rejuvenation after facing relegation last season and bringing in club favorite, but long-time Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew to right their sinking ship.  It has to be said he has done more than that, taking the incredibly pacy, counter-attacking side higher up the table than maybe their noses are accustomed to.  There is blood everywhere.

Much like the Pirates, the rejuvenation came fast enough that cheering for this side is almost expected.  They are fun, fast, and exciting to watch.  It is always a joy to have some fresh faces at the top of the table and anybody playing Cinderella gets my love.  Let’s hope the glass slipper fits and this isn’t another Wild Card one-and-done.

Everton; Rangers (Skeebs)

There’s an American defending their goal.  They literally can never disappoint you because they will always finish 8th.  Both teams boast overly blue and overly white kits.

Leicester; Astros (Skeebs)

Last year’s shitstorm begets this year’s early riser.  We all know how this ends and Jamie Vardy actually could be Jose Altuve’s caucasian cousin.  Just fall already.

Liverpool; Angels (Brendan)

Like the Angels, Liverpool has enough cash to compete for the ultimate prize, but generally spends it poorly and is left watching at home come champions league (playoff) time. Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Andy Carroll, and Christian Benteke will make your team better but they're a poor use of finite resources.

Since this whole post is dedicated to half-analogies and inexact comparisons, let's add a similarly problematic hypothetical: which former Liverpool great will Mike Trout's career most emulate? Will he spend his years pursuing a title in Anaheim, a la Steven Gerrard, or leave for greener pastures at the height of his powers, as Luis Suarez did? Assume that he won't bite anyone.

Man City; Dodgers (Brendan)

This is the most natural comparison on the list. New and deep-pocketed owners at each club have opened their checkbooks, dressed a phalanx of stars in their respective shades of light blue, and have emerged as the deepest teams in their respective leagues. Oddly, the comparison would have worked just as well a decade ago, when MC and LA were also-rans playing second fiddle to insufferable cross-town red-wearers with biblically themed nicknames.

Now, the link is entirely about stars and there are plenty of parallels to draw here as well. You could make a convincing case that the stealthy class of Sergio Aguero is the soccer equivalent of Clayton Kershaw’s too-good-for-you dominance, and who doesn’t see a little Yasiel Puig in City’s (former) striker Mario Balotelli?

Man United; Yankees (Skeebs)

Even towards the end of the Sir Alex Ferguson years, United looked worn and weary by the deathrows of the first decade of the century.  There is no denying their dynasty status, one of the teams to have never left the Prem since the league's inception. They are, however, a dynasty very much in need of repair.  Every summer transfer window has begot a host of moves that leave them breaking the bank, only to stumble towards mediocrity by the end of the year.

Mediocrity, just as with the Yankees, has to be relative for United, as most clubs in the 6th-12th range in the table would kill for their yearly stability.  There is an expectation that United will fight for the title every season, and that certainly has not been the case of late.  The dramatic and fire-breathing Wayne Rooney is a character most love to hate, especially in his inability to produce anything noteworthy when playing for his country.  Add in failed moves like Angel Di Maria (perhaps the most unique player in the world), the Falcao, the strange disappearance of Robin Van Persie, the embarrassing sale of a too-young Pogba, and United is just the luxury tire-fire we all love to watch lose.

Newcastle; Tigers (Skeebs)

All that cash, all those below-average results.

Norwich; Marlins (Skeebs)

Flashy uniforms, incredible offensive ability, and just no defense.  Imagine a sieve full of your favorite pasta that also leaks pasta.  Somehow this yo-yo club managed to buy almost nobody in their second go at the EPL in three years and it is showing, big time.  Let’s just hope the roof doesn’t fall down.

Southampton; Indians (Brendan)

Player development factories with limited budgets and a distinct lack of silverware, the Indians and Saints manage to play entertaining, if unthreatening brands of their respective balls. Each club hopes to develop enough young stars to make a run at glory before they're forced to sell off their young stars and start anew.

Aside from their performance on the pitch, Southampton is famous for producing (and selling) world-class players like Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The circumstances were a bit different, but a look back to the dissolution of the late-90's Indians reveals a similar exodus in talent.

Stoke; Rays (Skeebs)

Jonathan Walters would be a Tampa Bay Ray and maybe that is all that matters.  Jack Butland is the sort of talented, young goalkeeper that begs to be sold (read: traded for cash) to a bigger club.

Sunderland; Diamondbacks (Skeebs)

In American sports we commonly refer to teams in transition as in a "rebuilding year".  Well, Sunderland has been in that year for three years, but has avoided relegation.  It is time for the reset button and these relegation favorites likely will get to finally feel the release of the "Re-do" button this summer when they find themselves in the Championship and needing to cut payroll.  If only the Diamondbacks could get sent to AAA.

Swansea; Athletics (Skeebs)

Maybe the current EPL team employing the former West Brom model of "Moneyball".  Swansea is one of those kooky Welsh teams that somehow started in the English Leagues.  Their brand of soccer is free-flowing and without the talent of the top-flight teams leaves them open to lopsided results going both ways.  The ups and downs are rarely predictable and they are always a side that is in a match even if down by three.  Sound familiar?

Tottenham; Mets (Brendan)

Keep trying little buddy.

Watford; Rockies (Brendan)

The good
: Rockies fans rightfully cherish Rocktober as the greatest period in franchise history. In Watford, Colorado's English counterpart packed a similar degree of unexpected excitement in one of the most spectacular moments English soccer has seen this decade. Take a look at the final thirty seconds of their first round playoff game from two and a half years ago:

The owners: These guys. These guys. You'd think Colorado's CEO, Dick Monfort, would be humbled, or at least pleased, that Denver supports his moribund Rockies so enthusiastically. Outwardly, it appears not. In separate incidents, he famously told a disgruntled fan to stop attending games and then suggested that Denver might not deserve a team — all in the same week. Add in the unusually Christian culture permeating through Colorado's clubhouse and it becomes clear that things are run a little differently up in the mountains.

Meanwhile, Watford is owned by the Pozzo family, a group that appears to favor instability above all else. The club ran through five managers last season -- a year that culminated in promotion to the EPL -- and upper management didn't flinch at similarly overhauling the roster over the summer. More delightfully crazy than cynically boorish, the Pozzo's are among the most notable owners in the league, a real achievement for a club that many projected to finish in the relegation zone.

West Brom; Mariners (Brendan)

Punchless, luckless, and allied with fans who love their clubs despite rational judgement, supporters of the Mariners and Albion share a special connection, a bond not weakened by the fact that precious few fans on either side realizes it exists. The quality of play from both WBA and the Mariners routinely suggests that better days are not on the horizon, and there's certainly no comfort to be found in a glance at the history books.

And yet, there's something pure about both of these teams. It's not that a .500 season passes for success, or that a win against elite competition is a season highlight all to itself. Rather, it stems from the communal feeling that these achievements are to be celebrated because neither team
deserves anything more. There's something refreshing in that. Sports are a joy, and if you can't enjoy a simple tap-in or a double in the gap without needing it to represent something more, there's an overpriced seat in Fenway or Stamford Bridge just waiting for you.


West Ham; Padres (Brendan)

David and I put out a PSA a few weeks back, looking for any West Ham fan to come forward and recommend a suitable baseball team to sit alongside his or her beloved Hammers. After coming up empty, it seems appropriate to list the Padres and move on.

QPR; Expos

One team doesn’t really exist and the other might as well not for how poorly it’s run.