Premiership Predictions: EPL Roundup
Since it’s my last week here in London, I think it’s
fitting to take an in-depth look at the English Premier
League. I’ll recap some of this season’s major stories,
its winners and losers, and throw in a generous helping of sex
and drugs scandals for good measure. But first let’s cover
the basics. The English Premier League is made up of twenty
teams. Each team plays two games against every other team: one
game at home, one game away. Three points are awarded for a
win, one point for a draw. After thirty-eight games have been
played, the team with the most points is declared the league
champion. It’s a bit anticlimactic to crown the winner just
based on the standings, without any type of postseason
playoffs. But in soccer that’s just the way it’s done.
Over the past decade, the team most often declared league
champion has been Manchester United.
On the other side of the equation, the bottom three teams are
relegated - that is, they’re kicked out of the Premiership
and put in the First Division, which is the next-lower league.
In turn, the top three First Division teams are promoted to
the Premier League. Likewise, the bottom teams in the First
Division are relegated to the Second Division, and the bottom
teams in the Second Division are relegated to the Third
Division. It’s a wonderfully hierarchical system where the
strong are rewarded and the weak are punished. Rewards and
punishments give teams and incentive to play their best.
Wouldn’t it be more fun if the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh
Penguins were booted from their respective leagues?
Throughout the season there are various other national cup
competitions, the most important being the Football
Association Cup. For the FA Cup, all of the teams in English
professional soccer are placed in a pool and paired for
matches. In the first round mismatches are commonplace; a
Third Division side might face Manchester United, for example.
The winners in each round advance to the next. It’s the
closest thing to a playoff season in English soccer, but the
top teams usually care a lot more about winning the
Premiership title than the FA Cup.
This season Arsenal tops the Premier League with a nine-point
lead over second-placed Chelsea. Arsenal was in a similar
position last year, only to blow their lead in the final
stages to Manchester United. They won’t let that happen
again this year, and the bookies know it. The odds for Arsenal
to win the title are currently 1:10.
Chelsea has been on the biggest stories of the season since
the team was purchased by Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich.
After buying nearly $300 million worth of players, it looks
like the highest Chelski will finish is second place.
They’ve got a first-class midfield, defense and goalkeeper
but are missing a star-quality striker. You need to score
goals to win games, and while Chelsea has relied on its
defense to eke out several 1-0 wins this year, they need to
score more often to challenge Arsenal for the title next year.
It will be interesting to see if they pick up a star
goal-scorer in the off-season. Ironically, the surplus of
talented players at Chelsea has been a hindrance for the team
this year. The depth of their bench has meant they don’t
have a regular lineup, and they haven’t been able to gel as
a team. Chelsea’s players seem to care more about impressing
the coach with their individual performances to get more
playing time. Contrast this to the well oiled machines that is
Arsenal (and even Man United) and it becomes clear this is not
a championship team. Expect coach Claudio "Tinker
man" Ranieri to be sacked at the end of this season and
replaced by current England coach Sven Goran Eriksson.
Manchester United has had an awful year by their standards and
they’ve been dogged by one scandal after another. In
September United’s top defender Rio Ferdinand received an
eight-month suspension for failing to take a drug test.
Despite passing the test a few days later he was unable to get
the sentence reduced. The impact on the team’s performance
has been huge. They’ve hemorrhaged goals at an amazing rate,
and are winless in their last four games - unheard of for a
team of Man United’s caliber. Also distracting has been a
very public dispute between coach Alex Ferguson and John
Magnier, who owns 29% of Manchester United. Both are part
owners of a record-breaking racehorse, Rock of Gibraltar, and
they’ve been unable to agree on his stud rights. Pretty
silly, you might think -- but the horse is worth $200 million.
The club has grown so wealthy that this year Manchester United
has surpassed the New York Yankees as the richest sports team
in the world (with $320 million versus the Yankees $310
Contrast that with Leeds, who have experienced a spectacular
collapse this year and are likely to be relegated. Leeds
United has accumulated around $160 million of debt, and lost
almost $100 million this year. The problems date back to a
spending spree on players a couple of years ago that failed to
pay dividends. This year they’ve been forced to cut
player’s wages, and currently Leeds sit at the bottom of the
standings with 22 points in 28 games. It’s hard to believe
this was a top-table team throughout much of the 1990s, even
winning the Premiership in 1992.
But the top story has got to be the Leicester City players’
antics during a 'training session' in Spain. Three women have
alleged that nine of the team’s players forced their way
into a hotel room and sexually assaulted them. In a scandal
that has become affectionately known as the 'La Manga Ganga
Banga,' the three players were shown on TV being thrown into a
police van, and spent six days in a Spanish jail before
finally being released on bail. The trial continues.
Alcohol-fuelled frenzies like these are becoming quite common
at the bottom ranked clubs, with players who show up to team
practices drunk. What a contrast to a team like Arsenal where
alcohol is banned. But the players don’t seem to mind,
happily sipping lattes on a Saturday night. They’ll need to
stay sharp this Wednesday for a Champions League match against
Chelsea. But things look good for Arsenal who are 5-0 against
Chelsea over the past 15 months. In fact, Chelsea has not
beaten Arsenal since 1995.
Last week: Two wins and one loss, but frustratingly in our
'banker' of the weekend Real Madrid only managed a draw with
Zaragoza. We lost 100 units.
Liverpool vs. Wolverhampton: 2004-03-20 10:00 ET
Wolves remain the worst road team in the league with an 0-4-10
record. They’ve only scored 7 goals in 14 road games, by far
the league’s worst. Liverpool, conversely, average nearly
2.5 goals per home game and own a solid home record. Liverpool
are only one point shy of a crucial Champions League spot, so
they’ll want nothing less than three points from this match.
Striker Michael Owen scored twice last week, which is
significant because he’s a streaky player. Don’t be
surprised if he nets another two against Wolves on Saturday.
Play on Liverpool
Aston Villa vs. Blackburn: 2004-03-20 10:00 ET
Aston Villa have only lost twice at home all season, and one
of those was to Arsenal. With a win this weekend Villa can
inch closer to an important European qualifying spot. They are
one of the best teams in the Premiership this year, even
though on paper they don’t appear that way because of a poor
start to the season. Blackburn’s defense is one of the worst
in the league, and will not be able to cope with a sustained
barrage from Villa. Play on Aston Villa
Modena vs Reggina: 2004-03-21 09:00 ET
This game has drawn written all over it. Modena has drawn in 6
out of their last 10 games, and 3 of their last 4 home games.
Reggina has drawn in their last 3 straight games. Both teams
have drawn in 4 of their last 6 games. Any way you look at it
points to a draw. These are bottom-table teams who can’t
score, and their main motivation is to not lose, rather than
to win. I’d put the chance of a draw at 55-60% so these odds
are excellent value. Play on the Draw