The first full weekend of National Football League exhibition games, aka scrimmages with teams in uniform, began tonight. The Chiefs are hosting the Texans, the Saints are in Jacksonville, and Baker Mayfield made his unofficial debut with the Browns vs. the Giants in New Jersey.
I am not watching any exhibition gridiron football. Wake me up the evening of September 6, when the Falcons and Eagles play for real in Philadelphia.
Besides, the REAL football season kicks off in about 18 hours.
That’s when Manchester United welcomes Leicester City to Old Trafford to kick off the 2018-19 Premier League campaign. Most teams start their seasons Saturday, while a few play Sunday, including Arsenal and Manchester City at London’s Emirates Stadium.
The 20 teams of the Premier League, from Newcastle in the North East of England to Bournemouth, Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton on the South Coast, plus 16 teams from points in between, will do battle through Mother’s Day.
It’s simple. Teams play 38 total matches, 19 home and 19 away, facing each opponent twice. No playoffs. The winner of the league is determined solely upon the season. The top four teams in the Premier League qualify for the UEFA Champions League of 2019-20, while the bottom three will be relegated to the English Football League Championship, the second tier of English football. The top two teams in the Championship will take their place in the Premier League in 2019-20, while the third through sixth place teams in the Championship face a playoff, with the survivor earning the golden ticket to the top.
Manchester City is the defending champion. Pep Guardiola’s club was thoroughly dominant throughout 2017-18, going 30-7-1 (draws are listed before losses in association football) and becoming the first team since the formation of the Premier League in 1992-93 to finish with 100 points. City earned points 99 and 100 with a goal in the final minute of stoppage time on the final day of the season at Southampton to secure a 1-0 victory.
Manchester United finished second, but 19 points behind its archrival. Tottenham Hotspur held off hard-charging Liverpool for third, 77 points to 75.
Swansea City (33), Stoke City (33) and West Bromwich Albion (31) were relegated to the Championship. Taking their place are Wolverhampton, which won the Championship; Championship runner-up Cardiff City; and Fulham, which defeated Aston Villa in the playoff final.
I don’t consider myself an expert on association football, but I’m going to give it my best shot as to the order of finish:
- Manchester City–There’s no reason Pep’s men can’t continue their dominance. Maybe not to the tune of 100 points, but still clearly head and shoulders above the rest.
- Liverpool–Jurgen Klopp will have the Reds in contention all season. Momentum from strong transfers and UEFA Champions League final appearance.
- Tottenham–Mauricio Pochettino will keep Spurs high up the chart, but still searching for breakthrough.
- Manchester United–Jose Mourinhino will feel heat, especially if City comes anywhere close to duplicating last year’s success.
- Chelsea–Blues have bounced back and forth between the top and less than impressive finishes. That trend won’t continue. New manager Mauricio Sarri will find the grind of the Europa League and the Premier League to be brutal.
- Arsenal–Ditto for Unai Emery, who succeeds the legendary Arsene Wenger in North London. The Gunners should be able to avoid dropping too far, but the Champions League is probably out of reach this year.
- Crystal Palace–The Eagles’ obituaries were flowing last September after they lost their first seven games and did not even score a goal. Roy Hogsdon took over and had Palace playing the best football in the Prem outside of Manchester City and Liverpool. Europe is definitely within reach. No relegation worries this year at Selhurst.
- West Ham–Manuel Pellegrini’s club will enjoy its best season since moving to London Stadium. The Hammers need to avoid the dreadful starts of the previous two seasons; if they can, European football is a possibility.
- Wolverhampton–The Wolves have the best chance of the three promoted sides to succeed. Lots of fun at Molineux on the way.
- Leicester City–The Foxes need to stop living off their fairy tale 2015-16 season. It may never happen again, but there’s no reason Leicester should be near the bottom of the table, either, as its has been at points during the previous two campaigns.
- Everton–Wayne Rooney is gone. So is Sam Allardyce. Marco Silva is in charge of the Toffees. Goodison
- Newcastle–The Magpies somehow finished 10th a year ago, a credit to Rafa Bentiez’s managerial acumen. A similar mid-table finish is likely.
- Fulham–Shahid Khan has poured enough money into the Cottagers, just like he has done with the Jaguars, to make Fulham competitive in its first year back in the top flight.
- Bournemouth–Eddie Howe is a genius. By all rights, the Cherries should be doomed simply because Dean Court (aka Vitality Stadium) seats less than 12,000, but lo and behold, Bournemouth hasn’t been seriously threatened with relegation the last two years. Impressive.
- Burnley–The Clarets qualified for the Europa League by finishing seventh last season, but was it because Burnley was so good or there was a ton of mediocrity mid-table? The latter is probably right. The Clarets will stay up, but it will be a hairy season at Turf Moor.
- Southampton–The Saints were fortunate to escape the drop. It will be a close call again. Buckle up at St. Mary’s.
- Brighton–Same goes at the AMEX Stadium, where the Seagulls must score more and tighten their back line.
- Watford–The Hornets were a sieve last year, yielding 64 goals. Only Stoke (68) gave up more. New manager Javi Garcia faces a long road to hoe at Vicarage Road. Watford may be on borrowed time at the top.
- Huddersfield–The Terriers had trouble scoring (28 goals) and stopping the other team from scoring (58), yet somehow did just enough to stay up in their first season in the top flight since Edward Heath was Prime Minister. I don’t see Huddersfield making it to a third year.
- Cardiff City–The Bluebirds’ only Premier League season, 2013-14, saw them finish dead last and return immediately to the Championship. History will repeat itself. Neil Warnock performed a miracle in guiding Cardiff to second in the Championship last year, but it is weaker than some of the teams in the second tier, and probably the weakest by far in the Prem. Cardiff shouldn’t approach Derby County’s woeful 2007-08 season which saw it go 1-8-29 and finish with 11 points and a minus-69 goal differential, but it could be close.
We’ll revisit this post throughout the season to see how (badly) I’m doing.
Remember, 1400 CDT (2000 British Summer Time) tomorrow at Old Trafford. Football is back!