The English Premier League is becoming more and more popular in the United States, in part because it’s now relatively easy to watch the matches. Just a few years ago, even fans with satelittle or digital cable were forced to pay for access to the Fox Soccer and Setanta Sports channels. Fast-forward to 2012 and ESPN carries two games a week. Fox evens put the occasional big-time matchup on network TV–the exclusive channels just round out the coverage. It’ll get really good next season: all of these English Premier League matches will be rounded up and broadcast on either NBC, NBC Sports or NBC.com for anyone with a TV or computer to enjoy. Casual fans, it’s time to pick a team. Quick note: Assuming you have no previous ties to a particular team, you are going to want to pick a big club. Their matches will be the easiest to find, they will play more frequently in the most prestigious European competitions, and their brand of soccer will be the most attractive to watch. The bottom three teams in the table are relegated to the relative obscurity of the minor leagues, and that’s a chance you can’t afford to take from across the pond. History also isn’t too important here, you can’t just start watching Liverpool in 1985. Let’s take a look in five lines or less.
MANCHESTER UNITED: The most valuable team in sports is also, perhaps, its most popular. This season’s combination of a shaky defense, a devastating strike-force, and a traditional commitment to fast, attacking wide play make them as fun to watch ever. They lost last year’s title to bitter rivals Man City on a thrilling final day of season. Stars include Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Javier Hernandez, and Ryan Giggs.
Consider Entertainment Ranking: 1st
ARSENAL: Arsenal recently enjoyed a period of huge success, notably winning the title without losing a game in 2003-2004, but are currently stuck in a seven-year drought. Manager Arsene Wenger is known for the highly technical short passing game he preaches to his young players. However, he’s been forced to rely increasingly on young players in recent years as the club looks to shed salary, and Arsenal sometimes lack a cutting edge. Stars include Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, and Jack Wilshere.
Consider Entertainment Ranking: 2nd
CHELSEA: Chelsea are the defending champions of the European Champions League, and have won several Premier League Titles in recent years since Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich chose the club as his plaything. The powerhouse veterans of recent years (Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, John Terry) are being gradually phased out in favor of quick, talented youngsters like Oscar and Eden Hazard.
Consider Entertainment Ranking: 3rd
MANCHESTER CITY: Manchester City also recently came into some money. They got theirs from Abu Dhabi, and the money, or rather the players it bought, won them the title last season. City was traditionally Man United’s little-brother but their newfound success has kicked the rivalry back into high gear. However it happened, City are a fantastically gifted squad featuring the likes of Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, and the infamous Mario Balotelli.
Consider Entertainment Ranking: 4th
TOTTENHAM: Tottenham haven’t won too much in recent years, but the boys from North London always put on a show. They are Arsenal’s traditional rivals; Tottenham can beat anyone on their good days. They can also lose to anyone on any other day. This year’s squad is led by Gareth Bale and American stars Clint Dempsey and Brad Friedel.
Consider Entertainment Ranking: 5th
LIVERPOOL: Liverpool were the most successful team in English history until Manchester United, to quote Sir Alex’s on his long-time rivals, “knocked them off their f***king perch”. Liverpool have struggled mightily since winning the Champions League in 2004-05, but still enjoy massive support worldwide. Their two big stars are Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, and Liverpool’s new manager is grooming some potent young talent to bring the club back to glory. Consider Entertainment Ranking: 6th
Other choices include: Stoke City, the hard-nosed bruisers of the league; Everton, the club from across rapidly eclipsing cross-town rivals Liverpool; and, if you really like a dark house, smaller, but still fun-to-watch clubs like Swansea, Southhampton, or Fulham. Fiercely supported Newcastle also deserve a mention.
The season is three months old. Hurry up.
By: Noah Gordon
(Photo by Paolo Camera under a Creative Commons License)