Bluffer’s guide to the English Premier League

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The English Premier League (EPL) is the biggest domestic football competition in the world, and hot on the heels of the World Cup, it kicks off this weekend – here’s all you need to know.

A quick history lesson
English football has come a long way from muddy pitches, men with spiderwebs tattooed on their necks fighting on council estates and Big League Soccer on a Sunday. 1989’s Hillsborough disaster meant stadiums were made all-seater and family friendly, moving the game away from its working class roots, while Rupert Murdoch’s SKY injected plenty of TV cash when the Premier League as we know it was born in 1992.

Fast forward to 2018, and some of the best players in the world earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week (a week!) in exotic London, Manchester and, um, Bournemouth for kicking a ball about, doing a bit of training and trying to stay out of the tabloids.

What they’re playing for 
The top of the table has has been dominated by the top London and Manchester clubs, along with Liverpool, who all want to finish in the top four to get a lucrative and sexy place in the Champions League, Europe’s top competition. Three teams get relegated at the end of the season, prompting some desperate football and woe in May, the favourites are Cardiff, Huddersfield and Watford at this stage. In between is a whole lot of mush, really.

The teams

  • Tottenham Hotspur – From the North East of London, they’ve hovered around second place for the last few years, but last won the league title in 1961. In England, ‘Spursy’ means choking, but in actual fact they are the greatest football team the world has ever seen (I support them, ahem.)
    • Star – Harry Kane, the World Cup golden boot
    • Storyline – they move into a sumptuous new stadium this year, but tight finances mean they’ve become the first EPL team to not sign a single new player in the off season, much to their fans’ annoyance
  • Manchester City – won it last year without too much trouble. Were perennially shit and a really solid laughing stock for years until they were brought by Abu Dhabi sheiks, who gave them the cash to buy pretty much any player they wanted. They’ve done pretty well since.
    • Star – take your pick
    • Storyline – can they be stopped?
  • Manchester United – dominated the 90s and 2000s thanks to the bombastic Alex Fergusson, who oversaw an admittedly fantastic series of teams. Replacing him was hard though, and they’re onto their third post-Fegie manager Jose Mourinho, who’s either a genius or an unpleasant shyster depending on where you sit
    • Star – Paul Pogba, the dynamo world cup winner
    • Storyline – pressure is on to stay in touch with deadly rivals Manchester City
  • Liverpool – dominated the 70s and 80s but have struggled to reach the same heights for some time. Charismatic German (not a typo) manager Jurgen Klopp has brought wisely in the break, and they should be there or thereabouts
    • Star – the wonderful Egyptian striker Mo Salah
    • Story – with some decent signings, they’ll be hoping this is the season they can break through
  • Chelsea and Arsenal – the other two London clubs have both had disappointing (for them) runs lately and go into the season with new leadership – the former goes through managers like rugby goes through rules changes, while Arsenal have just replaced the venerable Arsene Wenger, who’d been in charge since the late 90s
    • Stars – for Chelsea it’s Eden Hazard from the tremendous Belgian world cup run, while for Arsenal Mesut Oil is the least underwhelming
    • Story – both aiming for top four, it’s hard to see them doing much more

The kits 
None of this World Cup retro sophistication – they’re all shocking. The league’s global popularity means many of the sponsors are in Chinese characters, which is fine but makes it all look a bit Blade Runner.

Where to watch
In New Zealand, unless you’re doing something untoward with your computer, you need beIN, who partner with SKY to bring you every game, the Spanish league and more to your dish or laptop for $16.10 per month.

Where to follow 
The Premier League app has all the fixture and tables etc. I like the Guardian’s football pages, and recommend their podcast too.

Author: Richard Irvine

Welcome to sportreview.net.nz - here's a bit about the site. Here I am on Twitter, or email me at richard (at) richardirvine dot com.

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