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Monday, January 30, 2023

Column: A procrastinator's guide to the Barclays Premier League

Welcome back to campus, Badgers! After an exciting summer for soccer, highlighted by Brazil’s World Cup, some of you might be suffering from footie withdrawal, and might be interested in following the world’s game more seriously this season. Well, fear not, because this coming semester Lars and I are here to guide you through the ups and downs of the Premier League (or “the Prem” for short), and we’ll start this week with a guide to a league which is only three games into its 38-game season.

In this column, we’re not going to simply give you the highlights of the weekend’s actions because, to us, soccer is more than a game; it’s a way of life. While we don’t expect you to necessarily drink the Kool-Aid the way we have, we want to give you two American fans’ perspectives on what it’s like following the beautiful game from across the pond. To keep it simple – and to allow ourselves to sleep from time to time – our column will primarily follow the world’s most popular league: England’s Barclays Premier League.

Chelsea Football Club

2013-’14 finish: 3rd

Predicted 2014-’15 finish: 1st

Manager: Jose Mourinho

Nickname: The Blues

Chelsea are one of the rare teams in world soccer where half the time you are watching the team on the field and half the time you are watching the manager on the sideline. This is because, at least for Chelsea, the most important individual at the club is not one of the 11 players on the pitch, but their coach. Jose Mourinho, also known as The Special One (a name he gave to himself in a 2004 interview) is undoubtedly one of the best managers currently in the sport. He is controversial, tactical, brazen, and above all a soccer genius. More than perhaps any other coach in soccer, Mourinho will choose results over style every day, and his team is molded to that image. Last year Chelsea had the best defense in the league, letting in only 27 goals (10 less than their next closest rival), and this season they only look stronger. With the arrival of the Spanish duo of midfielder Cesc Fàbregas and striker Diego Costa, Chelsea looked to have addressed their major issue from last season: scoring goals. This season, they are already off to a flying start, highlighted by a recent frantic 6-3 game against Everton, the Blues look set to win the league come May. They may not always play the prettiest soccer, but if you’re someone who values winning above all else, Chelsea are the team for you. 

Manchester City Football Club

2013-’14 finish: 1st

Predicted 2014-’15 finish: 2nd

Manager: Manuel Pellegrini

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Nicknames: The Sky Blues, City

As American sports fans, we often tend to turn an elitist shoulder to teams that spend large amounts of money on success. Perhaps it is because the narrative of a plucky underdog team appeals to us, or perhaps it’s because, let’s be honest, we all hate the Yankees for one reason or another. Well, a Manchester City fan would tell you to shove it, because they are here to stay. Following meteoric rise in success in the past five years, largely due to the bountiful coffers of their Arab billionaire Sheikh Mansour, City have gone from an average team to title contenders almost overnight. After winning their first title in almost 50 years in the most dramatic fashion (seriously, go look up their 2012 win on YouTube), City have established themselves as a soccer powerhouse. They are currently the reigning champions of the Premier League, and this season will field virtually the same squad that brought them so much success last year. Lead by the talents of their rock solid defensive captain Vincent Kompany, arguably the best midfielder in the world in Yaya Touré, and the dynamic and deadly striker Sergio Agüero, Manchester City will fight for this season’s title until the last game. If you’re someone who likes winning, plain and simple, Manchester City are the team for you.

Liverpool Football Club

2013-’14 finish: 2nd

Predicted 2014-’15 finish: 3rd

Manager: Brendan Rodgers

Nickname: The Reds

Liverpool are defined both by their historic success and their current resurgence as a major force in English football. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Liverpool were the dominant team in English football’s top tier, amassing 18 league titles and 5 European titles (among other honors) since their founding in 1892. Though the Reds have not won a title in the Premier League era (the time beginning in 1992 when the traditional English Football League was rebranded into the Barclays Premier League), they have come close to reliving their past glory on a number of occasions.

Last season, under the leadership of the young, ambitious and inventive Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool played the most exciting brand of football in England behind the league’s top two scorers of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge (31 and 21 goals respectively). Though LFC would ultimately miss out on the title by two points last season, they were admired the world over for their attacking style of play… though, admittedly, their defensive work was not as appreciated. This season, despite the loss of prolific goalscorer Suárez to spanish giants Barcelona, Liverpool still have a wealth of young talent. It’s hard to predict where Liverpool will finish come the end of the season, but what is for sure is that they will score a high number of goals, treat fans to memorable games and keep you on the edge of your seat. If you value a team with rich history, a talented young manager and a free-flowing and exciting style of play, Liverpool are the club for you.

Arsenal Football Club

2013-’14 finish: 4th

Predicted 2014-’15 finish: 4th

Manager: Arsène Wenger

Nickname: The Gunners

The case of Arsenal Football Club is a strange, paradoxical one. There seems to be no other club that has been so simultaneously successful in terms of their popularity, shrewd business operations and consistently entertaining style of soccer, and yet so unsuccessful in terms of winning titles and trophies (only one major trophy in the last 10 years, this past season’s FA Cup). Yet Arsenal still remain a well-supported club, and if this can’t be attributed to the trophies, it must come down to their consistency and general appeal as a team. Arsenal have the longest-standing coach in the league, Arsène Wenger, who has run the club for nearly two decades, bringing with him a focus on attractive soccer and an emphasis on developing young players. Arsenal are also one of the most well-run clubs in terms of business, always spending their money wisely on players. They also rarely splash large amounts of cash in the same way that teams like Chelsea and City do, thus leading to Arsenal avoiding the untasteful “just like the Yankees” comparison. However, this appeal is only worth so much, and if Arsenal want to keep their popularity they need to start winning titles and trophies soon. This season will be an interesting one to watch, as Wenger and his players are facing increased pressure. If you are someone who enjoys attractive play and a well-run sports team over cold, hard results, Arsenal are the team for you.

Manchester United Football Club

2013-’14 finish: 7th

Predicted 2014-’15 finish: 5th

Manager: Louis Van Gaal

Nickname: The Red Devils, United

Before we give you this preview, we should both state our bias: we hate Manchester United. If you are a United fan, this is probably something you are used to, as United is often the target of ire from soccer fans from around the globe, largely due to their mass appeal, but mostly due to their unparalleled success in recent years. Under their recently departed coach Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United turned into a global sports franchise, winning trophy after trophy, and all the while garnering the hate of their rival fans. Sir Alex Ferguson’s impact can not be understated enough, and nowhere else is this most apparent than in their recent shocking drop in success. After Ferguson left the club 2013 , Manchester United quickly found themselves in the worst season in recent memory, finishing in an unheard-of seventh place. Despite firing David Moyes, the coach who led them during this forgettable season, this season has not started any better. United have not won a game in their opening three matches, despite playing seemingly “easy” opposition. However, as much as fans like Alex and myself have been enjoying their terrible form as of late, all jeering opposition fans would do well to hold their laughs in check. To address their concerns, United flashed their financial muscle and spent a whopping 200 million pounds on players this summer. They brought in big names like Colombia’s Radamel Falcao and Argentina’s Ángel Di María. Plus, they still have the talents of big names like Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie at their disposal. United seem determined to make their recent struggles only a hiccup and not a trend. If you enjoy a team with a history of success, as well as a large and accessible fan base, Manchester United are the team for you.

Tottenham Hotspur Football Club

2013-’14 finish: 6th

Predicted 2014-’15 finish: 6th

Manager: Mauricio Pochettino

Nickname: Spurs

In recent seasons, it seems the Spurs have always been the bridesmaid and never the bride. Beginning during the 2009-’10 season, Spurs began to genuinely challenge the established order of the Premier League and managed to beat Liverpool en route to a fourth-place finish, and they haven’t looked back since. While they haven’t managed to return to the Champions League since the 2010-’11 season, they have been consistently knocking on the door of the top four. Despite the sale of key players such as Luka Modri? and Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, Tottenham have consistently invested in talented players to replace them, and now find themselves with a highly talented squad led by promising young manager Mauricio Pochettino. Spurs are the great X-factor of this season; they could finish in a Champions League spot just as easily as they could finish in seventh or eighth. What ultimately seems to be the case, however, is that Tottenham Hotspurs are a team with a bright future. If you want a team that looks likely to catch the proverbial bouquet sometime soon, Tottenham are your club.

Everton Football Club

2013-’14 finish: 5th

Predicted 2014-’15 finish: 7th

Manager: Roberto Martínez

Nickname: The Blues, The Toffees

The other “Blues” on this list -- as well as the other team from Liverpool -- Everton is a club known for consistently defying expectations. Though the Toffees have a respectable history, winning the league nine times, most recently in the 1984-’85 and 1986-’87 seasons, they proved one of the surprises of the Premiership last year following the appointment of current manager, Roberto Martinez, from Wigan Athletic. Despite their notoriously sub-par finances, Everton wowed the league last term with an exciting and attacking style of play. Following their impressive 2013-’14 season, which saw the Blues fall just short of a fourth-place finish, Everton uncharacteristically opened their checkbooks this summer and spent big on Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku. Now, the challenge for Everton will be equalling, or even surpassing, last season’s exploits in their hunt for a return to the Champions League. If you like a fashionable team with a trendy young manager that will win games (though not too many that you’ll be labeled a glory hunter), Everton are your club.

Alex and Lars are seniors at UW. While both are massive soccer fans, Alex is a diehard Liverpool supporter and Lars is a hardcore fan of the Blues of Chelsea. Though we can’t claim to have no biases (neither of us can stand Manchester United, for starters), we will do our best to give fair football analysis from the perspective of two American college students.

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