Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pennant Fever

Back in the 1980's, SEC football was still a lot of fun, but the teams weren't all that good.  You ended up with a lot of seasons where the standings looked something like this (from 1985):

Tennessee:  5-1
Florida:  5-1
Alabama:  4-1-1
LSU:  4-1-1
Georgia:  3-2-1
Auburn:  3-3
Ole Miss:  2-4
Vandy:  1-4-1
Kentucky:  1-5
Mississippi St:  0-6

Now this sort of season was exciting and dramatic -- especially if you were a Tennessee fan that hadn't seen your team win the SEC title since 1967.  But the quality of play wasn't all that great, and all of the teams seemed smaller because none of them was in contention for the national title.

That's what the English Premier League has been like lately.  From 2005 to 2012, English clubs reached the final of the Champions' League seven times in eight seasons.  Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal all reached the final during that stretch.  In 2008, Manchester United played Chelsea for the championship of Europe.  It was good to know that when you watched the EPL, you were seeing some of the best clubs in the world.  It was a lot like watching ACC basketball in the 1980's, or SEC football in the last decade.

But then they changed the rules to make it harder for English clubs to stockpile talent, and Sir Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United, and we got more parity but less quality.  Last year, for example, saw Leicester City's thrilling ride to the EPL title -- but only one English club reached the quarter-finals of the Champions' League, compared to three clubs from Spain and two from Germany.  The season ended with an all-Spanish final -- the fourth year in a row that no English club made it.

Anyway, it feels like Leicester City's victory worked some type of transition among the big English clubs.  They decided to step up their game:

1.  Chelsea went out and hired Antonio Conte -- last seen managing Italy to the quarter-final of Euro 2016 -- to be its new manager.  Conte won the Italian League three years in a row when he managed Juventus.

2.  Manchester United hired Jose Mourinho, who has won the EPL three times for Chelsea, and won the Champions' League for Porto in 2003-04 and for Inter Milan in 2009-10.

3.  Manchester City hired Pep Guardiola.  All he's done is win the Spanish League three times for Barcelona, win the German League three times for Bayern Munich, and win the Champions' League for Barcelona in 2008-09 and 2010-11.

As you can see, these are some giant coaches.  It's been a while since England featured two different coaches with Champions' League titles in their resumes.

So Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City all started 3-0-0 to open the new season.  That set up today's big game at Old Trafford (home of Manchester United) between City and United.  Everyone was excited to see Guardiola and Mourinho go head-to-head -- they've been rivals for years, they're both very charismatic, and the don't seem to like each other very much.

Guardiola got the better of today's match-up, as City beat United 2-1.  It was a huge road victory for City, and it keeps them at the top of the standings.  Chelsea hasn't yet played their fourth game, so the standings look like this:

1.  Man City:  4-0-0 (12 points)
2.  Chelsea:  3-0-0 (9) (goal differential of 5)
3.  Man Utd:  3-1-0 (9) (goal differential of 4)
4.  Spurs:  2-0-2 (8)
5.  Arsenal:  2-1-1 (7)

So things are getting back to normal in England.  Leicester City is currently in ninth place with a record of 1-1-1.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Rangers have finally made it up to the Scottish Premier League, after wandering in the lower divisions for the last four years.  But they are still not quite ready for Celtic -- they got drilled 5-1 by Celtic today.  So the top of the SPL looks like this:

1.  Celtic:  4-0-0 (12 points)
2.  Heart of Midlothian:  3-1-1 (10)
3.  Rangers:  2-1-2 (8)

1 comment:

  1. "Rangers" (but not "Texas Rangers") might well be my favorite team name in all of sports.