Once upon a time, when Bill Simmons was regularly featured on ESPN.com’s eponymous Page 2, he wrote a fantastic piece about English soccer in the wake of the 2006 World Cup. It was, by all accounts, a great article and its a shame he hasn’t broached the soccer subject since. Anyways, here’s a summary of what’s going on, team by team, with a sprinkle of Simmons style and my magnificently rendered insights mixed into one wholly awesome read. Enjoy.
20. West Bromwich Albion (WBA)
Too new, too tortured, all together not that talented. I’m all for teams that struggle and break through to the big leagues, but they simply lack the quality to put it together to sustain a place for the long haul. Expect them to be back in the Championship next year. It hurts when your most expensive player costs 3.5 million, and that was back in 2004 when we weren’t in the midst of a recession. How the hell can you compete with THIS.
NBA Equivalent = Oklahoma City Thunder
19. Sunderland FC
So you’re Roy Keane. You’ve just retired from the game you love after being released from Manchester United and heading to Celtic for practically two weeks of pay and a couple pints. You’re sitting on your ass at home, watching weekend footy, when the phone rings. Its some guy with a thick Irish accent. He wants you to manage this team, called Sunderland. The pay is shit, as are the current players, but you get access to a growing transfer budget, and can do damn near anything you want. Nice.
For all his flaws, Keane has always been a talented motivator. He took a team that was at the bottom of the Championship to the EPL in two years. Not a bad resume by any stretch. He’s also a pretty shrewd business man. He did a total overhaul this summer of his team, bringing in eight new players, and so far the results have been mixed. They have put together brilliant sequences but have yet to string together a few consistent displays. I’d expect them to be competitive, but lack the killer instinct to finish opponents on the road. They’ll most likely stick it out for another year.
NBA Equivalent = New Jersey Nets
18. Newcastle United
Oh where to begin? They’re owned by a British megalomaniac, their fans are some of the worst in the world, they currently are on their sixth manager in four years, and they still have Michael Owen. They’re totally due for a break, but there’s no way I’m giving it to them. They’re just awful to watch. They play some of the most disjointed, selfish football you’ll ever see.
They have some solid young talent (N’Zogbia, Martins) and a couple of lunatics, and then of course they have the requisite high-priced flops (Michael Owen, Mark Viduka). Plus their current manager, Joltin’ Joe Kinnear, is bat-shit crazy. No lie, the dude can’t keep it together for 5 minutes without launching into an expletive-laden attack.
So what does all this mean? More dissapointment for the fans, I’m afraid. They’ve yet to put anything resembling a competitive team on the pitch for more than two games in a row. Their defense, which boats an influx of Argentinians whose names are hard to pronounce, are terrible and belong on my metrosexual all-star list. I would expect them to get relegated to the Championship side, where maybe they can actually win a trophy for a change.
NBA Equivalent = New York Knicks
17. Wigan Athletic FC
Their nickname is the ‘Lactics‘. FAIL. They’re survivors, having been promoted to the EPL in 2005 and lasting. WIN. Their stadium seats 25,000. FAIL. Their manager used to work for KFC. FAIL? They have an Egyptian striker who nobody knew until this year, when he showed up and started bagging goals with the quickness. WIN. They’ll probably lose said striker to an expensive Spanish outfit this summer (can you hear me Ramon Calderon?) FAIL. Their fans lovably sing songs about striker Emile Heskey that invoke the line “Husky Heskey”. WIN.
NBA Equivalent = Milwaukee Bucks
16. Tottenham Hotspur FC
Ugh. How I despise thee. Even though you have, on paper, one of the more stacked lineups in the land, you still manage to dissapoint all those who seek trophies through your pursuits. It helps that Uncle ‘arry Redknapp came on board a month ago. These guys haven’t lost a match since he showed up. Guess they tuned out Juande Ramos. Probably helps that ‘arry actually speaks English, and doesn’t use as many hand gestures and translators. In bursts, they play really well together. They were supposed to storm through the competition this year and challenge the top-four for supremacy and perhaps a Champions League birth. After a dismal start to the campaign, they have their shit together. But I’m not buying them for long-term success. They’ll come undone sometime around February, at which point loyal Spurs fans will be calling for ‘arry’s head and trying to get the ESPN Trade Machine to render simulations involving David Bentley and Raef Lafrentz’s Expiring Contract. You’ve been warned.
NBA Equivalent = Chicago Bulls
15. Blackburn Rovers FC
They used to be the ‘nastiest’ team in the league, and not a lot has changed since the moniker was bestowed. They’re scrappy, and love to grind out 1-0 results. Manager Pau Ince has his work cut out, especially given the recent transfer speculation surrounding Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz. Former manager Mark Hughes help build the club into a respectable middle-of-the-road competitor.
They did win the League Cup back in 1991, so its not like they’re an incredibly tortured outfit. They’ll be competitive, but lack the class to distinguish themselves from the pack.
NBA Equivalent = Washington Wizards
14. West Ham United
They’re owned by a consortium of investors from Iceland. They’re managed by an Italian. Their best players are English. They also feature American Jonathan Spector, so hey, there’s that. Plus, its painful to watch their matches. They’ve lost six straight, and show no signs of getting better.
NBA Equivalent = Los Angeles Clippers
13. Manchester City FC
Fact Check: Previously owned by recently-deposed Thai Prime Minister Thakshin Shintawara. The guy actually bought the team while seeking asylum in the UK for charges back home. Turns out he wasn’t as rich as promised, after his Thai counterparts froze his bank accounts. He couldn’t make the payroll and was forced to dump the team off to a group of shady Arab investors, fronted by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. You can bet the Department of Homeland Security did a double take when they saw that name.
Anyways, dude rolls into town with his billions and pips Chelsea to the signing of Robinho back in August. Just to spice things up, he gives manager Mark Hughes a bankroll the likes of Bill Gates might cringe at to recruit ‘top-notch’ talent during the upcoming transfer session. So they have all the resources on paper to be awesome. But, they’re surprisingly mediocre. One player can only do so much in a team-oriented game, and Robinho has learned the hard way that he’s clearly not Fernando Torres. Still, they’ll be competitive as long as they’re funded with blood money.
Side-note: I feel like this Abu Dhabi Investor Group thing is one of the most intriguing sub-plots of the season. Can you imagine the fear they invoke in other owners hearts. You’re bidding for a player, and even if you’ve gotten 90% of the way, you have that lingering suspicion that those bastards might show up and buy your guy, JUST BECAUSE YOU THINK HE’S TALENTED. That’s how rich they are. They can afford to cock-block everybody.
NBA Equivalent = Dallas Mavericks
12. Stoke City FC
I know nothing of this team. Next.
NBA Equivalent = …
11. Bolton FC
Blase. Impassive. Spontaneously good at times. Remarkably inept in front of goal. Undisciplined. Lack of passion. Yet somehow they keep showing up to the dance. Bolton are the Chloe Kardashian of the group. They do the group-hang thing with their attractive siblings and friends, just hoping someone will ask them out. When the night is winding down and everyone is off losing their virginity, Bolton sits their crying hysterically to the soothing sounds of “When a Man Loves a Woman“, clinging to the hope that somebody somewhere thinks their attractive. DOUBLE FAIL.
Slight-success: Their stadium is named ‘The Reebok‘, so then there’s that.
NBA Equivalent = Charlotte Bobcats
10. Fulham FC
They miraculously saved themselves from relegation last year, no thanks to manager Roy Hodgson and his bullshit tactical policies. Their best player, Clint Dempsey, averages 20 minutes a game off the bench and genuinely thinks he’s Tupac. They boast an all-star cast of American talent, but little else worth mentioning. They tend to beat up on the minnows and suck ass against the good teams.
NBA Equivalent = Toronto Raptors
9. Portsmouth FC
So they’re located on the southeast coast of The Kingdom, which translates into ‘smells-like-fish-all-the-time’. Their stadium was recently ranked as one of the worst places to watch a match. They just lost their manager (Uncle ‘arry) and apparently the will to live (winning 2 of the last 6). They have the funniest looking striker combination ever, 6’7 Peter Crouch paired with 5’6 Jermain Defoe. So technically, they can play big or small. They have a few good players in the midfield, a couple of washouts that failed on bigger stages in the backline, and England’s #1 goalkeeper in David James.
They won the FA Cup last year, which might be the single-most-glorified competition ever created, save for the Carling Cup. Uncle ‘arry used to complain that the owners were too cheap to spring for big-name players, often leaving the club lagging behind in quality. So, if you’re into conservative displays and foul stenches, this is your club!
NBA Equivalent = Miami Heat
8. Middlesbrough FC
A dead sleeper this season. They’ve been good enough to give a push to some of the big names, but inexperienced enough to drop behind in a couple of encounters. They got smashed at home by Chelsea, but turned around to beat Aston Villa on the road next week. They have some expensive talent (Alfonso Alves, Tuncay, Mido) and some general unknown commodities. Good enough to catch a team sleeping, but too inconsistent to threaten any of the major players. In a few years, they might be a legit contendor, but right now their just finding their feet.
NBA Equivalent = Denver Nuggets
7. Everton FC
So this is the team that everybody loves, because a number of your best players probably started here. They have one of the best youth leagues in all the land, recruiting and cultivating superstar talent on a regular basis. Their most notable alumnus, one Wayne Rooney, recently remarked that Everton will always hold a special place in his heart. Aww…
I digress. The team is actually very good and has been impressive so far this term. They’ll never scare you on paper, even though they have some excellent players. They run a system on the pitch that limits isolations and relies more on open passing and posession play. They obviously lack a game-changing talent, but are crafty enough to capitalize on defensive miscues.
NBA Equivalent = Houston Rockets
6. Hull City
Cinderalla Watch for 2008. It probably won’t last, but these guys just came from nowhere to storm to the top of the table, albeit briefly. They have one notable player, the rest are just minnows. They are a newcomer to the scene and are fighting hard for wins on all grounds. They took Chelsea to the wire before losing, and then went to Manchester United’s pitch and barely lost a 4-3 slugfest. These fuckers won’t back down from a challenge, and have the confidence to think they can win any game. I doubt they keep it together for the full-term, but they’ll break some hearts and steal points along the way.
NBA Equivalent = Atlanta Hawks
5. Aston Villa
They scare me. Seriously, they have such a dynamic mix of youth and experience, a great manager who knows how the get the best out of his players (Martin O’Neal), a budding superstar in Gabriel Agbonlahor, a proven winner in John Carew, and a perfect mix of roll players. Their style on the pitch is more fluid than most, and they’re getting close to Arsenal Territory (more on that later). They reel off wins against the lower teams, and steal wins against the big four. Might be good enough this year to sneak into the top five, and if they did I would most certainly not be surprised. Big expectations are on them now- they’re no longer a sleeper to anybody with a pulse.
NBA Equivalent = New Orleans Hornets
4. Manchester United
The champs have started slowly this season. A slew of injuries and some bad luck have seen them drop points at home and on the road which they would have snapped up last year. Alex Ferguson (manager) is seasoned enough to know when to pick his battles, and has thus far prevented from unleashing his fury on the sqaud for their lack of focus. Call it a hangover or whatever else floats your boat, but their simply not the same team that ran the table last year.
A lot of the blame can be attributed to Chrissy Ronaldo and his whimsical ways. You can certainly put some of the blame on management and their arrogance in relenting to buy Dimitar Berbatov until the waning hours of the transfer window. This purchase set of a few alarms, in particular Mr. Carlos Tevez, seems to be buzzing at high levels. The guy is clearly looking over his shoulder and hasn’t quite figured out his role this year. One game he starts, the next he comes of the bench for 10 minutes. Its hard to know where you stand with a fucked up rotation. Another interesting note- their vaunted defense, which carried them last year to the finish line, has been lackluster so far. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have been through various injuries which have limited their effectivness, but the reintroduction of skipper Gary Neville seems to have had a reverse effect on team chemistry.
The future is always bright when you boast an attack with Rooney, Berbatov, Tevez, Ronaldo, Scholes, Carrick, Nani, Anderson, Park, Fletcher, etc. But sooner or later they need to figure out what their identity for the season will be, and fast. They just dropped two points to Arsenal and also gave two away on the road to a Chelsea outfit not playing their best ball. Plus, they lost flat-out to a Liverpool squad missing its two best players. You can never count the champs out until the final whistle, but they need to get it together sharpish before its too late.
3. Arsenal FC
‘Arsenal Territory’ referres to the notion that a team can play such beautiful football that fans cannot help but gush and rave about their quality, even in losses. Look no further than the namesake for an accurate depiction. They play with poise and style all to their own. Manager Arsene Wenger has always put a major emphasis on quick passing and open play. With an excellent roster loaded with the best young talent money can buy. Arsene likes to play the kids, which is why most aspiring talents choose the Gunners over other suitors. But, they can’t seem to keep a hold on them when they break into superstardom. Cost of doing business I assume.
But beauty comes at a price, and many pundits believe that Arsene will need to shift his focus from style to substance in order to secure a top-place finish. I’d expect little in terms of change and a more likely than not third-place finish for the West-London outfit.
NBA Equivalent = Phoenix Suns
2. Liverpool FC
Blood red kits. A skipper who grew up in the city supporting the club. A meddling manager who consistenly tweaks a good thing by adjusting lineups and rotations. A fan base tortured to win the League for what seems like decades. Look no further my friends.
They have all the pieces to make a major run to the finish, and most likely will be fluctuating between the 1-2 spots for the remainder of the year. They’ve solved the one major deficiency in their gameplan, and now regularly dispact minnow clubs. Though they just crashed out of the Carling Cup, they have a team which, on paper, looks like an all-star lineup of epic proportions. With Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Robbie Keane, Jamie Carragher, Pepe Reina, Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt, Javier Mascherano, Ryan Babel, and so many other talented role-players, this could well be the season to end all misery.
They’ve had to work for too many of their wins thus far. Four of their victories have involved coming from behind in the final 20 minutes to snag three points. That cannot continue if they are planning to usurp their primary competiton for top-dog status. Like many others, they’re battling for trophies on multiple fronts, so rotations and rest will be important factors down the stretch. It’s early days, but things are looking up for the Liverpuddlians.
NBA Equivalent = Cleveland Cavaliers
1. Chelsea FC
First, my bias has nothing to do with this ranking. These are the actual EPL rankings as of today. Second, shut up and let me explain.
They have been, without question, the best team in the EPL thus far. Systematically, they have gone about their business with executioner-like skill, dismantling teams at home and destroying them on the road. The mark of a true champion is their ability to protect their home front while managing to win away from friendly terriroty. With the introduction of manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, Cheslea are playing a more fluid Samba-Style (Brazilian) attack that hinges on a 4-4-2 formation with the wing defenders overlapping into attacking positions.
Though they have had some troubles as well. They let a game slip by dropping points at home to Tottenham, they scraped together a draw against Manchester United, they let an 86-game unbeaten at home run expire at the hand of Liverpool, and they had their luck turn cold in the Carling Cup against Burnley. And Oh By The Way, they got destroyed by Roma in the Champions League. But we’re here to talk about one thing only, the EPL. For my money, nobody has been better.
Even with a new slew of injuries (our luck blows) we have built up an impressive goal differential of +25. The next best is Arsenal with +12. With players rounding into form under Scolari, the future is one that will be interesting to see develop as Chelsea and Liverpool battle for supremacy on top. I’m curious to see how everything finishes down the stretch, but with the way Chelsea have started out, it seems as if they have a chip on their shoulder, and are sending a message to the rest of the league with their bashing displays.
NBA Equivalent = Los Angeles Lakers