This past weekend marked the start of a new season for the English Premier League, and with the games now on the NBC Sports Network, an entirely new audience of American fans will be introduced to the beautiful game. But if you're unfamiliar with the game, no worries. As both a soccer and college basketball fan, I felt obligated to give Big Ten Basketball fans an easy guide to EPL teams. To do this, I will take each Big Ten team, and compare to the EPL team that I believe it has the most similarities.
Let's get to it.
Ugh. Two boring teams. Sorry, fans of both teams, but neither are very exciting. West Brom did well last season basically on the back of Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku, and now that he's gone, they won't be anything interesting. Nebraska basketball as well lacks interest, but just like most EPL teams, they have some foreign talent in Sergei Vucetic from Serbia and freshman Tai Webster from New Zealand. How about this: they both are located in the middle of their respective countries. That's as good as I can do.
Penn State - Southampton
Here's two young teams not known for past success, but both with the arrow pointing up. Last season, Southampton finished 14th, but teetered on the brink of relegation the entire season. After a coaching change mid-season, they scored some big wins, beating Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea to stay above the bottom three. Penn State had a big win late in the season, upsetting Michigan at home after previously being winless in the Big Ten. This year, both squads will get huge boosts. PSU's Tim Frazier returns from injury, and Southampton's new signings, like Pablo Daniel Osvaldo from AS Roma, will help big time. Both teams are due to rise up out of their respective cellars.
Northwestern - Sunderland
I tried to find a team that has never won a trophy, I really did. But not only has a team never won a single trophy, there are so many little trophies for English teams to win that I gave up on that comparison. But I'll do my best regardless. If you're looking for low scoring affairs, these are two teams for you. Sunderland scored 41 goals all last season, but gave up only 54, for a fairly tame goal differential of -13. That's pretty good for a team that finished one spot away from relegation. Northwestern scored a riveting 60.7 points per game last season, but allowed their opponents to score 63.7 points per game. These teams specialize in bending but not breaking, and it hasn't led to victories in recent history. And by my prediction, neither of these teams will be close to any substantial success this season.
Illinois - Newcastle United
Part of the reason I wanted Northwestern to be Sunderland was so I could maintain the geographic rivalry between them and Illinois. Therefore, the Fighting Illini are dubbed as Newcastle, who are only 30 minutes away from Sunderland, their main rival. Isn't it fun when these things work out? Both are very on-paper-talented teams located in the middle of nowhere (sorry Urbana-Champaign) that expect to win each year, even though that's probably a bit unrealistic. Newcastle didn't live up to the normal high expectations last season, as they danced with relegation during the final stretch. Illinois' season wasn't as stressful, but losing in the round of 32 after being previously ranked as high as 10th in the country isn't what Illini fans are looking for. But both teams have pedigrees of success, and should rebound from tough seasons this year.
Iowa - Stoke City
Oh man, I love this comparison. Stoke City plays the ugliest brand of football you may ever see in England. Some people, like current Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas, hate it. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger compared Stoke's style to be more like rugby than soccer. But others who prefer an old school, grind-it-out, no-flash-at-all style of play love it, like ex-announcer Andy Gray who is famous for saying that Lionel Messi would "struggle on a cold night" at Stoke (lolol). Soon, more and more Big Ten teams will be struggling on cold nights in Iowa City. Outside of a blowout to Michigan last year, they gave every team they played trouble, especially the Badgers. Wisconsin lost once at Iowa, and had to scrape a double-OT victory at home in a game that seemed never-ending. But like Stoke, Fran McCaffery won't change his style. He'll keep beating teams up and continue to hang tough with the nation's best, and even though it won't be pretty, that will soon translate from NIT runner-up finishes to tournament success. ESPN sure agrees, placing them in their preseason top 25. Never change, Stoke City and Iowa.
Purdue - Everton
Purdue is a school known for its excellent science programs. In 1928, after watching Everton play, someone called their style "scientific" which spawned fans to nickname their stadium "The School of Science." So that's a pretty solid comparison right off the bat. Everton is a team with the bluest of the blue collars. They always overachieve and play above their talent level. But they are under new management, as their previous skipper, David Moyes, now manages Manchester United. Purdue also has a history of blue-collar, tough teams that have won in the past (fun fact: both Purdue and Everton won their respective leagues in 1932). However, Purdue's change isn't with coaching, it's with players. They are still adjusting to life without Robbie Hummel and all the success he brought. But even with all the changes, winning for both teams shouldn't be too far away.
Indiana - Liverpool
I admit, I am selling Indiana short on this one. Liverpool's 7th place finish last year does not equate IU's Big Ten Championship. But Liverpool's incredible past success and current talent that doesn't necessarily translate to trophies make this comparison work. And UH OH RIVALRY ALERT. Purdue and Indiana hate each other. Everton and Liverpool haaate each other. I had to do it. Both Indiana and Liverpool have had inordinate amount of past success. Liverpool has won the second most trophies out of all English teams. The Hoosiers have 5 NCAA championships and 21 Big Ten titles, making them the most storied Big Ten basketball team. But recently, both teams have been dysfunctional. IU dealt with their own NCAA sanctions, and even after rising out of them, coach Tom Cream can't seem to win in the tournament. Liverpool has had quite the summer this year, and even though the transfer saga of controversial star Luis Suarez seems to be over, there is a definite lack of chemistry that could hinder the team's progress. Both teams have all the talent and resources to be perennial champions, but that hasn't met either team's high expectations.
Minnesota - Tottenham Hotspur
This is the opposite of the Indiana comparison, as I am giving Minnesota too much credit by making them Tottenham. Minnesota was not a top 5 Big Ten team, and Trevor Mbakwe is not equivalent to Gareth Bale. But here me out. Both teams recently have had all the talent in the world, but haven't been able to get over the hump and have concrete success. They both had legendary former coaches that never could eclipse their rivals (Arsenal/Wisconsin - more on that later). But both teams are entering new eras. With young, passionate coaches with insatiable desires for winning, Richard Pitino and Andre Villas-Boas could finally turn that talent into championship success. Arsenal and Wisconsin better be careful, because their era of dominating their rivals could be over soon.
Wisconsin - Arsenal
Speaking of these two teams, I could write for hours about this comparison. Not only does it involve the two teams I support, but it's the one that makes the most sense. Year after year, Arsenal fans gripe about the lack of new talent on their team. They never seem to make a big splash in the transfer market, even though they certainly have the resources to do so. But the fans eventually get over the lack of hot prospects, and start the frustrating trudge through the season. They'll lose some gimmies and win some thrillers, and it's evident that manager Arsene Wenger will get the most out of the talent he is given. Arsenal will usually beat their rivals, Tottenham, and finish about 4th in the EPL - good enough to qualify for the Champions League, but not anywhere close to winning a trophy. That's what the Badgers do each year. They rarely have game-changing talent, but because of Bo Ryan's coaching, they find themselves at the top of the Big Ten. They'll earn around a 4th seed, but never sniff a title. Wenger declared that 4th place "is a trophy." And to Badger fans, seasons like the one I described are usually seen as successful. But if they don't snap out of their old ways, their rivals could leapfrog them, which would cause me uncontrollable grief and sadness. So come on, Arsene/Bo. Let's go for the gold.
Ohio State - Chelsea
Now to the current royalty of the EPL. This year, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United will all beat each other up for the top three spots, just like Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State (and Indiana, I didn't forget you) will in the Big Ten. But let's start with Ohio State/Chelsea. Chelsea's rallying cry is "We Ain't Got No History," poking fun at the fans of Liverpool that brag about their past success that hasn't correlated to current victories. While Ohio State doesn't have the history of Indiana, they are poised to dominate the future. The Buckeyes, just like Chelsea, really came into their own in the mid-to-late 2000s. In 2003, billionaire Roman Abramovich purchased the team and spent millions on new players, bringing Premier League, FA Cup, and UEFA Cup glory to Stamford Bridge. In 2004, Ohio State hired Thad Matta as head coach, who brought in equally strong talent and lead them to the Final Four twice in his tenure, losing in the National Championship game once. The Buckeyes restocked this year, just like Chelsea, and both teams should be very strong in the upcoming season.
Michigan - Manchester City
Ahh, Big Ten/EPL's nouveau riche. These teams have certainly had their ups and downs, but are loaded for the future. Rival fans and traditionalists are certain to point out that neither team belongs in the upper echelon of the B1G/EPL, but tradition be damned, the Wolverines made it to the National Championship game, and City is my pick to win the league. But it wasn't always like this. City struggled to even stay in the Premiership during the 1980s-2000s, and Michigan still feels the effects of the scandals attached to Steve Fisher and the Fab Five. However, City is in the hands of the Abu Dhabi United Group, who have not been shy about spending the money to bring City a title, which they did in 2012. Michigan is in equally safe hands: John Beilein may not be the Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE, but he still has brought top talent to Ann Arbor, and doesn't appear to be changing his winning ways any time soon. Sorry, United/MSU fans, but these two newcomers are here to stay.
Michigan State - Manchester United
At last, the crown jewel of the Big Ten/EPL. This isn't a perfect comparison because Michigan State doesn't embrace the "villain" role as much as the Red Devils of United do, but these are two perennial contenders that always have solid teams, and always win trophies as well. Managerial legend Sir Alex Ferguson of United retired last season, but MSU still has their own legend, Tom Izzo, going strong. No matter the talent, Izzo and Fergie would make the most of it and always correlate it to trophies and deep tournament runs. United's new manager David Moyes shouldn't alter their current path in the slightest, and MSU looks ready to make a run at another Final Four. These two dynasties won't be falling any time soon.
I sure hope you enjoyed that little journey across the pond to discover the joys of the English Premier League. See you all on Saturday mornings.