Some watch the Premier League for the artistry and high-level play that only megastars like Alexis Sánchez and Eden Hazard can provide. Others watch for the drama of stressed-out, egomaniacal coaches yelling at everyone—at each other, at the referees, at God, at the sport itself, at their players, at their opponents’ players, and at José Mourinho (nobody does this more than José Mourinho). That’s fine. Those are worthy reasons to watch the EPL, and we won’t stop you.
But while almost every German team will score a bunch, and even the bad Spanish sides give a shit about things like possession and tactical cohesion, the EPL is blessed with a heritage for sludgy, sullen, anarchic soccer, the sort played by anonymous English dudes named Charlie who would rather use their feet to slam into and through the shins of an opponent than to daintily pirouette past a defender with a nifty dribble. As you’d imagine, this makes for rather ugly but mesmerizing soccer, heavy on blood and thunder and adrenaline, light on artistry and nuance and guile. While a heavyweight bout between, say, Chelsea and Manchester City might be more enthralling, lumpy dudes who are paid 30 times less than their continental counterparts at the big clubs produce their own sorts of thrills.
Every EPL team is, of course, ridiculously wealthy, but the gradient between the richest and poorest is so steep that the least monied scarcely stand a chance without extreme tactics. There’s something uniquely engrossing about watching a juggernaut of a team try for 90 minutes to dislodge a stubborn squad deep in the relegation battle, like seeing a bear try to flip over a tortoise.
For our 2017-18 Premier League preview, then, we’ve decided to group teams together not by where us soccer know-nothings predict they’ll wind up in the table at the end of the season, nor to list in minute detail which new wingers Stoke and Crystal Palace have signed and how these players will facilitate their team’s width dynamics, but instead by categorizing them into one of three classes: teams that we don’t think will be especially fun to watch, teams that should be pretty fun to watch, and those that should be extremely fun to watch.
Because let’s be honest; you probably already root for one of the big seven teams everyone else likes, and you’ll most likely spend your Saturday mornings either watching your team’s match and/or the next best one that pits one of the other big seven clubs against reasonably compelling competition. Unless you’re a true EPL degenerate, we don’t expect you to wake up early to catch Watford vs. Brighton & Hove Albion any time soon. Let this preview serve as a quick primer on which teams you know you’re going to be watching anyway should put on good shows or not and why, and maybe along the way you’ll learn something about a club you weren’t expecting to keep tabs on that will give you a rooting interest in one of their matches against Manchester United for a reason other than your (perfectly justifiable) desire to see the Red Devils trip on their own dick.
We’ll start with the six teams you should probably avoid flipping the TV over to whenever possible. Money doesn’t necessarily correlate with entertainment in the EPL, but it’s pretty close. Our list of the six most boring Premier League teams will naturally contain some of the league’s worst and poorest, but it’s by no means a precise reflection of where we see the standings shaking out.
So you chose to root for these lovable puds of Liverpool after the 2014 World Cup because they were good enough to win a bunch but not so good that they’d make your fandom a soulless experience, and also you liked Tim Howard. Bad choice!
Not only has Howard been put out to pasture, the team sold their only reliable goal scorer from last season (the exceptional Romelu Lukaku) and replaced him with hair plug model Wayne Rooney. Their second-highest scorer last year, Ross Barkley, wants to jump ship and the coolest player Everton brought in to replace Lukaku was Barcelona-washout-turned-solid-but-unexciting striker, Sandro.
This is not to say that Everton will be bad next year. They finished seventh last season and should find themselves somewhere in the top half again this year. With Lukaku’s departure, the club has spent a ton of money to strengthen the squad as a whole, and if they lock down Gylfi Sigurdsson, they can credibly tell their fans they made aggressive use of the money they got for their talismanic striker.
But there’s not a lot to love from the neutral’s perspective. There’s nothing particularly surprising about them. Yannick Bolasie (when he’s healthy) and Kevin Mirallas are Fine, Leighton Baines is still a productive left back, and Gareth Barry is just sort of there. Ronald Koeman seems like a pretty damn good manager, though in the exact opposite mold of ex-coach Roberto Martínez. Where Bobby was naive but excitingly (maybe even suicidally) attack-minded, Ronnie is safe and defensive. Which one the Toffee faithful prefer is a question for them.
Everton fans’ best hope for a fun season probably lays with a couple of their smattering of young prospects ramping up the development curve. However, each of Tom Davies and Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin smack of the kind of good-but-not-great players who break into the league at precociously young ages and, because of that and their Englishness, are subjected to fans’ unrealistic expectations and are thus are considered disappointments when they don’t all put together Rooney-circa-2003-type years. And the one youngish player of theirs who does have world-class potential is on the brink of being pushed out.
It’s not all that hard to imagine one of Everton’s youngsters really getting going and doing something cool, or maybe their very strong midfield of Morgan Schneiderlin, Idrissa Gueye, and new addition Davy Klaassen bossing the center of the pitch for most of the Toffees’ matches and earning them an impressive point total. But even so, the ceiling and floor for Everton are both pretty well-defined. The teams ahead of them are miles away and most of the ones behind them are similarly far off. This doesn’t seem like a team with a lot of potential to shock anyone, nor really to offer much joy to those who just want to see some cool goals.
Here we have Everton’s first EPL opponent, another team most known in the United States for being home to a USMNT fixture, Geoff Cameron. Stoke finished 13th last season, and despite having cool dudes like Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautović on their team, they’ve still managed to be boring. (In large part because Arnautović was the only one of their cool dudes who regularly did cool shit, and now he’s gone.) Cameron is solid, but good Christ, they bore the piss out of us.
Here is a list of facts about the soccer team known as Stoke City:
- Their captain is most famous for nuking Aaron Ramsey’s leg.
- They employ Peter Crouch, and apparently do so unironically.
- They have a defender from Ireland named Stephen Ireland.
- Not only are their shirt sponsors British betting site bet365, they are also owned by the guy who owns bet365.
- Remember when that West Brom guy Saido Berahino thought he was hot shit and tried to hold out for a move to a big club? He got stuck at Stoke.
- Aside from Bojan, Stoke’s Madrid/Barcelona washouts are the washiest outiest of washouts, like Joselu (1 appearance for Madrid), Marc Muniesa (2 for Barcelona), and Ibrahim Afellay (21 apps in four seasons, mostly because his legs of made of butter).
The less said about this team the better.
West Brom manager Tony Pulis is the grim reaper of fun, as his squads tend to buckle up, pack it in, and try to win every game 1-0 or draw it 0-0. The nicest thing you can say about him is that his teams never get relegated. They finished tenth last year and they’ll probably do so again, with little fanfare or attention, because what Tony Pulis teams do is finish outside the money and outside the relegation zone, content to just sort of exist. It’s boring as shit and you should watch as little of them as possible. West Brom make Stoke look like a team of 11 Christian Pulisics.
I guess their coolest player is Nacer Chadli? He’s a perfectly fine Belgian forward who was better than he got credit for at Tottenham. With Chadli, the underrated Salomón Rondón, and Jay Rodriguez—who looked really good for Southampton a few years ago before his knee exploded—the Baggies could possibly have a neat little attack. The problem is, these forwards’ job will be to run in a straight line at full tilt down the pitch for the few possessions per game that West Brom decide to maybe think about contemplating going forward by hoofing a ball over the head of the opposing defenders. Don’t get us wrong, Pulis is great at what he does and should be commended for his consistency. It’s just that he’s good at something that makes for entirely uninteresting viewing.
The highlight of Burnley’s 2016-17 season was not getting relegated. They finished 16th, then sold their best player to Watford this summer so as to make their forthcoming relegation scrap more exciting.
Burnley have spent the past decade bouncing back and forth between the top two tiers of the English soccer pyramid. They spent nine years in the Championship until they reached the Premier League in 2009. They promptly finished 18th and got relegated, conceding nearly twice as many goals as they scored. After four more years in the second division, Burnley once again made it back to the promised land and once again ate shit, finishing 18th and only scoring 28 goals. The ping-ponging pattern played out again and they returned to the Premier League last year after winning the Championship, and they actually held on for 16th and another shot at not getting relegated, the ultimate goal for Burnley.
No other club exemplifies the thrills and horrors of life between two tiers of the soccer pyramid like Burnley. They’re never quite safe. Last season, Burnley had the great distinction of leading the Premier League in clearances. Like Pulis, Burnley manager Sean Dyche deserves lots of credit for his ability to make the most out of the spare Brits and pieces he’s given to work with. But also like Pulis, his teams are not very exciting.
The loss of Andre Gray will hurt, as his partnership with Sam Vokes was the one halfway interesting thing about them last year—though surely the club’s brass can’t be too upset getting £18.5 million for Gray in return, even if it will be tough finding a good replacement. Burnley don’t really score much or do really anything out of the ordinary besides sometimes not losing. Their most newsworthy moment of last season was when midfielder Joey Barton got popped for betting on games.
Don’t watch this club until the last two months of the season, when every game will be a scrap.
The first of the Premier League new boys! Huddersfield finished just fifth in the Championship last season but advanced through the playoffs to reach the Prem for the first time in club history. They’ll probably be cannon fodder this year, but this is still a likeable, if not compelling, bunch.
USMNT fans will have a lot to enjoy about Huddersfield. On-again off-again USMNT midfielder Danny Williams is back in the top flight after four years of scraping with Reading. More impressively, the team is coached by German-born former U.S. international David Wagner. Wagner truly gives no fucks and last year he sort of fought Garry Monk after his team scored a late winner. When asked if he’d stop going in, Wagner channeled his inner Rich Homie Quan and said, “I am what I am. Hopefully I’ll be able to learn my lesson but in terms of the desire and passion for my team and for the game, this will probably never stop.”
Huddersfield are the tiniest club in the EPL, with relatively few players who have ever played in the Premier League before or even a top-tier European league. Their best players are from Bermuda, Australia, and the United States, so this is a truly international team with an English backbone. They had to spend £4 million to upgrade their stadium and facilities for life in the Premier League, and if they somehow nab a point off of any big teams at home, it will be full-on pandemonium. Pull for them from afar, sure, but don’t tune in.
Brighton & Hove Albion
After Brighton won promotion to the first division for the first time in the Premier League era, fans stormed the field and lost their shit. It was one of the coolest soccer moments of the end of last season, and it’s a blaring reminder of what a big fucking deal it is for a club like Brighton to make it to the Premier League and welcome giants like Arsenal and Liverpool into their home ground.
Brighton’s top scorer last year was English soccer lifer Glenn Murray, a 33-year-old vet of who’s played throughout the English soccer pyramid and who bagged 20 goals last season. He has Premier League experience and he’ll be joined by Davy Propper up top. When teams gain access to the Premier League, they often reinforce their roster and try to stock up for the inevitable relegation fight ahead. Propper is a perfect signing for a club like Brighton, as he’s a young international who already has an Eredivisie championship and has experience in the Champion’s League.
If this team doesn’t seem likeable and scrappy enough as is, their owner and chairman is Tony Bloom, a professional poker player nicknamed “The Lizard.” Bloom runs Star Lizard (yes, that’s his company’s real name), which is a very strange and very British mix between a gambling syndicate and a hedge fund. A gambling industry vet called it “pro gambling meets capitalism.” Look at this shit:
Bloom set up Starlizard to run his sports activities, and the business allows him to bring the cool heads and statistical rigour of Mayfair’s boutique quant investment world into the murky arena of Asian bookmakers. He told one interviewer, “I wanted to gamble because I enjoyed it and, therefore, I needed to do it properly in order to win.”
Starlizard workers are invited to share in Bloom’s winnings. They are offered a free stake in Bloom’s syndicate, putting them in line for payouts of up to £500,000 every six months — assuming the match results go Bloom’s way, of course. If they don’t, employees and other syndicate members must top up Bloom’s gambling pot from their own pockets.
Anyway, even if their boss is a crazed gambling genius, Brighton still won’t be very good. They have an uphill battle to stay in the Premier League, and seeing as how the mostly made it up because their defense allowed the second-fewest goals in the Championship last season, they will likely bunker it in and chill.