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!
Your undisciplined blogger here. I’ve got to do better. I’m making this statement for at least the 481st time on Foots Prints. I failed to follow through the first 480 times.
Sports is kind of in a lull right now. The World Cup ended two weeks ago with France defeating Croatia; the Open Championship ended eight days ago with a command performance by Francisco Molinari, who didn’t crack under the pressure of playing with Eldrick Woods in the final round; and one league of Major League Baseball is about as suspenseful as watching paint dry. Four of the five playoff teams in the American League are known: Red Sox, Yankees, Indians and Astros. The fifth spot will either come down to the Mariners or Athletics. Everyone else? Forget it.
Fortunately, the National League still holds drama. The Brewers somehow are only three games back (in the loss column) of the Cubs despite going 1-7 in Miami and Pittsburgh the week before the All-Star break, and Milwaukee has a comfortable lead as the first wild card. The Marlins, Mets and Padres are all done, and while the Reds are playing better under Jim Riggelman, the early hole they dug under Bryan Price is too much.
I don’t know if the Brewers can hold on to a playoff spot. They got some help in acquiring Joakim Soria and Mike Moustakas, but the injury bug has hit Miller Park hard. Milwaukee would have trouble in a one-game playoff against either Arizona, Atlanta or Philadelphia, and then if the Brewers won, they would have to play the Cubs in the division series.
John Tavares signed with the Maple Leafs. The ex-Islander will make Toronto a dangerous team offensively, but Mike Babcock knows there’s no way teams can win 6-4 in the NHL every night in this era. It isn’t the 1980s, when Edmonton was able to rush the puck up the ice consistently with Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Coffey and Glenn Anderson and score seven or eight on many nights. Also, Toronto doesn’t have a goaltender anywhere near the caliber of Grant Fuhr to take on 40-45 shots consistently.
If Babcock doesn’t find some help on the blue line, and quick, Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen will die from taking on too many shots, and Toronto will never climb above Boston and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic.
The Bucks? Well, letting Jabari Parker walk wasn’t the problem. DRAFTING Jabari Parker was. If the Bucks were smart, they would have taken Joel Embiid number two overall instead of Parker, and even if Embiid would have been slow to heal from the injuries which plagued him at Kansas, it still would have been much better than Parker. Until the Bucks find help for the Greak Freak, they won’t be making it past the second round of the playoffs any time soon, even if the East is wide open after Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto.
I’ve written off the Arizona Cardinals. I don’t care what their record is. Actually, the worse, the better. They need a lot of help. Josh Rosen isn’t going to be the magic panacea to get them back to the Super Bowl. The offensive line sucks, and it has sucked since the Cardinals were in St. Louis. The running game has been non-existent since Ottis Anderson was in his heyday. I am not confident Steve Wilks is the answer.
I’ve also written off my alma mater’s football team. I just can’t see any better than 7-5. I hope I’m wrong. I’m looking at Miami, Auburn, Georgia Alabama and Texas A&M as games where LSU will be at a decided disadvantage. If the Mississippi State game were in Starkville and not Baton Rouge, I would have to favor State, but it’s a toss-up in Death Valley. The Florida game would be a toss-up in Baton Rouge, but in Gainesville, the Gators have to be favored. LSU is at a decided advantage in Baton Rouge vs. Ole Miss, but the Rebels will treat it as a bowl game since they are on probation. LSU has held the upper hand against Arkansas under Orgeron, but the Razorbacks will be dangerous in November after they learn Chad Morris’ system, especially in Fayetteville.
Forget the football played with a prolate spheroid and on a gridiron.
Football season is still 11 days away. The REAL football season, that is.
The Premier League kicks off August 10 when Leicester City visits Old Trafford to play Manchester United. It’s the second consecutive year Leicester has had to go on the road and play the Friday night game to open the season; last year, the Foxes lost 3-2 to Arsenal at Emirates Stadium. The rest of the league plays either that Saturday or Sunday.
The smart money is on Manchester City to repeat as Premier League champions. Why not? Pep Guardiola has built a machine at the Etihad Stadium, and it is still a step ahead of United and Liverpool, the other two teams which figure to be at the top of the table with City. Chelsea and Arsenal have new managers and the distraction of the Europa League, which forces teams to play on Thursdays before turning around to play league matches on Saturday or Sunday, and that will hurt. Tottenham has a golden opportunity this year with Arsenal and Chelsea a bit down and the excitement of moving into the new White Hart Lane, but will Spurs take it?
I don’t think Leicester will be anywhere near the danger of the drop zone, but I can’t see another Claudio Rainieri-Jamie Vardy miracle, either. Mid-table would be fine with me, maybe seventh and a spot in the Europa League.
Bournemouth probably has no business in the top flight, given it plays in a stadium which seats less than 12,000 has nowhere near the resources of the Big Six of the Premier League, and not as much as Leicester, Fulham and a few others. However, Eddie Howe is a fine manager, and that’s the reason the Cherries are still in the top flight and the likes of Sunderland, Stoke, Swansea, West Brom and Hull aren’t. In fact, Sunderland has cratered into League One, the third division, just two years after competing in the Premier League. OUCH.
Meanwhile, the pressure in Italy’s Serie A is on Juventus, where Cristiano Ronaldo has taken his talents after a long and storied run at Real Madrid. The Turin side is always expected to be at or near the top of Serie A, but this year, the pressure has to be crushing.
The same can be said for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. It has been Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and 16 weak sisters in most recent years in Germany, but last year, Dortmund was not only looking up at Bayern, but also Schalke and Hoffenheim. Christian Pulisic, the 19-year old American phenom, has a lot of weight on his shoulders at Dortmund, but it’s a position every MLS player would kill to be in.
I have an appointment in Prairie Village Thursday afternoon to get another treatment on my back. Now I know what to expect.
My dear friend Peggy celebrated a birthday yesterday. I know how old she is, but I won’t tell you. Sorry.
Watching The Price is Right now. WHY DO CONTESTANTS LOOK AT THE CROWD? They don’t know a damn thing. If I’m going to lose, I want to do it my way. I’m sure the contestant coordinators don’t pick the highest IQs, so what help can they be? Also, looking at the crowd wastes time!