February 27, 2009


How Predictable is the Premier League? (The Gaffer, February 27, 2009, EPL Talk)

There has been so much talk about the 2008/2009 Premier League season being one of the most exciting in years, but that dream is over. After a heroic start to the season, Hull City could be relegated by May. Manchester United are seven points clear at the top of the table and seem invincible. Aston Villa have lost their momentum, and the neutral’s fans hope of them cracking the top two are all but over. All that seemingly remains is the battle to avoid relegation, which in itself is becoming predictable too.

In addition to that, consider the following facts:

* When was the last time Manchester United lost a match in the Premier League against a club outside the Big Four? The answer is 383 days ago when Manchester City won 2-1 at Old Trafford.
* How about Chelsea? The last time they lost to a non Big Four club was 544 days ago when Aston Villa beat them 2-0 at Villa Park.
* Liverpool? It was 118 days ago when Tottenham Hotspur grabbed a last minute goal to win 2-1.
* And Arsenal? The last defeat to a team outside the Big Four in the league was 97 days ago when Man City won 3-0.
* Out of Liverpool’s last 13 league games, 61% of them have been draws.
* Out of Arsenal’s last 10 games, 70% of them have been draws.
* So far this season, 12% of all Premier League games have ended nil-nil.

So, not only do we have a predictable season with Man United running away with it again, but there continues to be few upsets. And, to compound matters, we’re now getting more scoreless draws.

As painful as it's been actually watching soccer this Winter, it's made up for by the curious spectacle that its fans provide. They're enjoyably savage about its awfulness and honest about the universally recognized flaws. For instance, it is accepted as a sad fact of life that when Manchester United is playing--especially if they're at home--nearly nothing that their players do will be called a foul but if their star, Christiano Ronaldo, has the ball you have to stay back from him or he'll flop to the ground and be awarded a free kick. They don't score in open play, for the most part, but on these bogus penalty shots. And everyone in England knows it.

So, and I kid you not, the focus of the League isn't who will win it, but which three teams will be sent down to the lower league after the season. Imagine, if you will, that the NFL's flexible schedule was used to move the Lions, Raiders, Bengals, etc. to primetime Sunday night games. That's right, it is the very worst games that "matter" most. It truly is bizarre.

On the other hand, some of the best writing in the British press is on the soccer pages and there are a bunch of entertaining podcasts about the game: The Guardian's Football Weekly; The Game from Times Online; the ESPN SoccerNet podcast; World Soccer Daily; and the BBC's 606 call-in show. Viewing the culture from a dispassionate distance is like watching a documentary about Trekkies or Civil War re-enactors. Their obsession is so amusing you don't much need to care about its subject.

N.B.: one of my favorite things about the League is that the two best goalies are, inevitably, American. It being the position where you use your hands...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2009 8:47 AM
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