Saturday, January 23, 2016

Pennant Fever

One of the main reasons that MLB decided to get rid of pennant races is that most of the time, the races aren't very entertaining.  For example, last year Chelsea ran away with the English Premier League, going 26-3-9 and finishing eight points clear of second-place Manchester City.  But there really is nothing in sports to match a good pennant race, which is why so many of us are willing to sit through bad pennant races in hopes of finding a good one.  This year, fans of the EPL could be in for something exciting.  Chelsea, last year's champions have collapsed -- they have already fired their coach and remain mired in 14th place.  Traditional powers Manchester United and Liverpool are struggling, finding themselves in fifth place and seventh place respectively.  And we have a dramatic three-way struggle at the top between Arsenal, Leicester City, and Manchester City.  After 22 games of a 38-game season, here's what the top of the table looks like:

1.  Arsenal:  13-4-5 (44 points) (goal differential of 16)
2.  Leicester City:  12-2-8 (44 points) (goal differential of 13)
3.  Manchester City:  13-5-4 (43 points)
4.  Tottenham Hotspur:  10-3-9 (39 points)
5.  Manchester United:  10-5-7 (37 points)
6.  West Ham United:  9-5-8 (35 points)
7.  Liverpool:  9-7-7 (34 points)

I have no idea how this will turn out, but the British betting houses see it as a two-horse race between Manchester City and Arsenal.  Here are the latest odds:

Manchester City:  11 to 10
Arsenal:  7 to 5
Leicester:  10 to 1
Spurs:  16 to 1
Man Utd:  22 to 1

We haven't been checking in on Scotland in recent years, and here's why.  There are only two teams in Scotland capable of winning the top division championship:  Celtic and Rangers.  These two giants -- both based in Glasgow -- simply dwarf the rest of Scottish soccer.  Rangers has won 54 Scottish league titles, while Celtic has won 46.  Normally, Scottish soccer is not as normal as this sounds -- Rangers and Celtic have a tremendous rivalry, and every one of their games feels like the old Oklahoma/Nebraska battles in the Big 8.  But after the 2011-12 season, for reasons that I never understood, Rangers went into bankruptcy.  Now, to me, that doesn't seem like it should be such a big deal -- why should we fans care if the Raiders are technically bankrupt or not, so long as the team keeps playing?  But it's a big deal in Europe.  Because of the bankruptcy, Rangers was technically a new team -- so they were shunted all the way down to the Third Division of the Scottish Football League -- which itself is below the Scottish Premier League.  Since then, Rangers have been slowly working their way back up:

1.  In 2012-13, they won the Third Division, and were promoted to the Second Division.
2.  In 2013- 14, they won the Second Division -- in fact, they didn't lose a single league match -- and were promoted to the First Division, only one division short of the Scottish Premier League.
3.  In 2014-15, they came in third in the First Division, which was not enough to be promoted to the Scottish Premier League.  They also lost in the promotion playoffs, so they are again in the First Division for the 2015-16 season.  As of today, they lead the first division by five points.

Given that they have not had to deal with Rangers in the Scottish Premier League, Celtic has had an easy time of it:

1.  In 2012-13, Celtic won the Scottish Premier League by 16 points.
2.  In 2013-14, Celtic won the Scottish Premier League by 29 points with a record of 31-1-6.
3.  In 2014-15, Celtic won the Scottish Premier League by 17 points.

Pretty boring.  This year Celtic leads the SPL by three points over Aberdeen, and they have outscored their opponents by 42 goals in only 22 games.  So we will hope that Rangers wins its way back to the SPL, and then this rivalry will be renewed.


  1. So bankruptcy in Scottish soccer is like NC2A probation.

    1. It's worse. Rangers have been out of the top division for four years and counting.

  2. Leicester City was the only one of the high-flyers in the English Premier League not to reach the Round of 32 in the F.A. Cup. Leicester had a tough draw in the Round of 64 -- Spurs on the road. They survived the first game, which ended in a 2-2 draw. But then Spurs came to Leicester and drilled them 2-0 to win the replay. All the other top EPL teams are still dancing as the 4th Round (the F.A. Cup's Round of 32) kicks off this weekend.