Monday, September 2, 2019

Pennant Fever

So it's been a while since with checked in with the English Premier League, which seems to grow more popular over here all the time.  Turns out that people like pennant races after all.

Here's what we missed:

In the 2016-17 season, Chelsea won the title without too much trouble, finishing seven points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur.

In the 2017-18 season, Manchester City crushed everyone.  The Sky Blues had a record of 32-2-4, which allowed them to rack up 100 points -- a new Premier League record.  No one else came close to them.  The second place team was Manchester United, which finished 19 points behind.

But last season -- the 2018-19 season -- was a cracker.  Liverpool, which hasn't finished at the top of English football since 1991, soared off to a hot start.  On January 3, 2019, Liverpool had a 7-point lead over Manchester United.  And the Reds never really cooled off.  In fact, they ended up with a record of 30-1-7, and a total of 97 points.  No team had ever lost the league championship with that many points.  It would have taken an uncanny effort to beat them.

In fact, it would require Manchester City to win the last 14 games of the season.  That's 14 wins in a row -- a single draw would have cost the Sky Blues the title.  So the type of soccer most Americans associate with Europe -- dull, boring games where no one tries to score -- City couldn't play that style.  They had to score, and score, and score again.  And that's exactly what they did.  They ended the season on a 14-game winning streak, and their final record was 32-4-2.  That gave them a total of 98 points, and their second EPL title in a row.  They also won the F.A. Cup, becoming the first English club to do the double since Chelsea in 2009-10.

Those of you who are Americans may think it odd that a team with four losses is considered better than a team with one loss.  And you have good reason to think so.  For most of soccer history, you got two points for a win and one point for a draw.  Under that system, Liverpool would have had 67 points, and City would have had 66.  And here in America, most of our sports look at winning percentage, with a tie counting as half of a win.  Under that system, Liverpool's winning percentage would have been 0.882, and City's would have been 0.868.  But in 1981, the English decided to award 3 points for a win, and 1 point for a draw, to encourage a more attacking style of play.  In fact, that's now the standard for soccer leagues everywhere.  And so the title went to City.

But all was not lost for Liverpool.  City was eliminated from the European Cup by Tottenham Hotspur in stunning fashion, and Liverpool beat Spurs in the final to win the Championship of Europe.

So Manchester City won the double, and Liverpool are the champions of Europe.  Not surprisingly, they are currently at the top of the EPL Standings, which currently look like this:

1.  Liverpool:  4-0-0 (12 points)
2.  Man City:  3-0-1 (10)
3.  Leicester City:  2-0-2 (8)
4.  Crystal Palace:  2-1-1 (7) (goal differential of 1)
5.  Arsenal:  2-1-1 (7) (goal differential of 0) (6 goals scored)
6.  Everton:  2-1-1 (7) (goal differential of 0) (4 goals scored)
7.  West Ham:  2-1-1 (7) (goal differential of minus-1)
8.  Man United:  1-1-2 (5) (goal differential of 3)
9.  Tottenham:  1-1-2 (5) (goal differential of 1)
10.  Sheffield Utd:  1-1-2 (5) (goal differential of 0)
11.  Chelsea:  1-1-2 (5) (goal differential of minus-3)

So it looks like another two-horse race.

England will have the following teams in this year's Champions' League:  Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs, and Chelsea.  All four teams are favored to make the knockout rounds.  No team from Scotland qualified for the group stages.

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