You’ve been saying it for years. This is it. This is the year you double down and commit to the most addictive sports substance on earth: Premier League. This is the year you get up at the ass-crack of dawn to watch Newcastle and Burnley draw 0-0 (sorry, nil-nil). This is the year you learn that xG has nothing to do with algebra and that Crystal Palace isn’t the new Game of Thrones book. This is the year that football happens all Saturday every Saturday. This is the year you finally pick your damn team, come hell, high water, and sleep deprivation. But before you assume your final football fanatic form, join us for a light training session, because the Premier League starts Friday and the last thing you want to do is the start the season with a pulled hammy.
First, take a stroll, see the sights and sounds...
The season starts with a perfect icebreaker on Friday afternoon, under the lights at Anfield. Tune in at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN to watch the Reds run riot over the mighty, um, Norwich City Canaries before slide-tackling the rest of your season-long bucket list including …
Aston Villa’s first game back in the Premier League
After their crushing relegation in 2016, Villa are officially back in the top flight, and the away end is sure to be rocking at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium come Saturday 8/10 at 12:30 p.m. on NBC proper. Speaking of which …
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Tottenham’s new 62,000-seat leviathan technically opened in April of last year, but Saturday marks the start of the stadium’s first full season as the crown jewel of the Premier League. Part of a joint venture with the NFL—including two retractable fields, one for football and one for other football—the “New White Hart Lane” could well be the home for the NFL’s first London franchise in the nearer-than-you-think future.
Turf Moor on a crisp Autumn afternoon
By contrast, the Premier League’s second-smallest ground is also one of its most essential. The sky is always a perfect shade of gray, 70 degrees constitutes a scorcher, and the rolling English countryside peeks through every gap of the old steel stands. Hell, it’s even on Harry Potts Way. Sure, the football might be shit, but the atmosphere is Premier League perfection.
First things first: It’s pronounced “Darby.” After that, all you need to know is that derbies are to the Premier League what rivalry games are to college football. One simply does not exist without the other. This year the bad blood boils early with Arsenal and Tottenham facing off in the North London Derby on Sept. 1, before Liverpool and Manchester United reign in the granddaddy of grudges on Oct. 19.
Boxing Day/Championship Sunday
‘Twas the morning after Christmas and all through house, nothing was stirring … except your dumb ass getting up to soak in the Premier League’s favorite holiday of the year. This year’s edition features all 20 teams in action at the same time on the same day, which usually occurs only on Championship Sunday, when NBC splatters 10 simultaneous kickoffs across their family of networks. Last year I watched Tottenham Hotspur clinch their Champions League place on SyFy, which was disturbingly fitting.
Arsenal Fan TV
Coming into the summer, Arsenal, who leaked goals last season like the Trump Administration leaks classified information, needed one thing, and one thing only: defensive reinforcements. Fast-forward three months, and they’ve sold their best centerback and longtime captain to Bordeuax while simultaneously signing a gaggle of redundant midfielders and an unproven French winger for the second-highest transfer fee of the summer. Cue the most entertaining thing in sports: Arsenal Fan TV after another 5-4 loss. (And don't start with me, a 32-year-old David Luiz does NOT count as a defender.)
Now let's put some faces to names...
Pep Guardiola is young. Pep Guardiola is stylish. Pep Guardiola is dashing. Pep Guardiola coaches arguably the best (and inarguably the most expensive) team in Premier League history, leading Manchester City to back-to-back titles. Pep Guardiola also loves lecturing OTHER TEAMS’ players who he doesn’t feel are playing to their potential when the cameras are rolling. Pep Guardiola is kind of a prick.
The Premier League’s Bond-villain-in-waiting, Liverpool’s German commander preaches “heavy-metal football,” has a smile as wide as the Danube, and sprints the full-length of the pitch while fist-pumping like a maniac every time the Reds score, which is fairly often (more on that in a second.) But beneath that jolly, beer-clinking veneer is a lousy loser who blames refs for global warming and pouts through post-game press conferences, all while quietly building a laser that can turn potatoes into diamonds.
Mohamed Salah and Virgil Van Djik
Dr. Klopp's henchmen—the former a frizzy frocked Egyptian Messi who will flay your best defender alive to rapturous applause and the latter a 6-4 enforcer who hasn’t been dribbled past IN 65 GAMES, arguably the single craziest active streak in professional sports. Good thing Daniel Craig is a Liverpool fan …
HARRY KANE SCORE GOALS. HARRY KANE SLEEP. HARRY KANE DREAM OF SCORING GOALS. HARRY KANE WAKE UP. HARRY KANE SCORE GOALS. HARRY KANE SLEEP. HARRY KANE DREAM OF …
Mike Dean is the Joe West of the Premier League, a referee who has an uncanny knack for stealing the spotlight from the multimillion-dollar superstars surrounding him. He celebrates goals like a boyhood fan, sells every call with an Off-Broadway flair, and even bated Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino into a two-game suspension last year after cameras caught Pochettino and his assistants shouting “YOU CAN’T F*@$ING SAY THAT” and “SAY THAT TO THE CAMERA” immediately after a loss to Burnley. What Dean actually said remains a mystery, but we assume he's saving the reveal for his upcoming biopic starring Bruce Willis in the titular roll.
Lowe is the shining face you’ll see every Saturday morning while you nod off in your orange juice. She’s the centerpiece of NBC Sports’ Premier League coverage, an ardent Palace supporter (that’s how they pronounce “fan” in England), and, like Jessica Mendoza/Rachel Nichols, isn’t afraid to mix it up with the boys because she knows more than them anyway. I completely, platonically love Rebecca Lowe and you will, too.
The new boyz
As you may or may not have heard from NBA commish Adam Silver, who loves soft-pitching pipe dreams on ESPN that he has no intention of ever implementing, the Premier League operates via a system of relegation and promotion. Every year three teams come up from the Sky Bet Championship and three from the Premier League go down. Gone are Fulham, Huddersfield Town, and Cardiff City, replaced this year by Norwich City, Sheffield United, and the aforementioned Aston Villa.
Villa, the last team in, have spent nearly $170 million on unproven players this summer in a bid to “stay up,” and the Championship champs Norwich City have done next to nothing. Both the Norwich and The Blades, as SUFC are affectionately known, are betting favorites to be one-and-dones this year, which is good, because prolonged exposure to the Canaries’ kits can have lasting damage on your vision and overall mental well-being:
Next, learn the local customs...
Big news, instant replay aficionados: The Premier League now has VAR. Hooray!
VAR stands for Video Assistant Replay, is soccer’s version of instant replay, and is already turning PL purists' faces into giant, overripe tomatoes. Every game is officiated by a referee and a team of assistants, who will still make all the calls in real time as always, only now there is a video assistant in a London cubicle assigned to each game, working in tandem with the referee to identify and review clear, obvious, game-changing errors such as penalties, red cards, cases of mistaken identity, and, of course, goals. The on-field referee can request a total of three reviews per game for situations they are uncertain of, and the video assistant can suggest incidents for the referee to review based on what they see on their monitors.
A version of system has already been used to uneven effect at the 2018 Men’s World Cup and the 2019 Women’s World Cup, as well in most major soccer leagues around the planet, but this will be its introduction to the roiling, toiling cauldron of Premier League football. Expect ample insanity and stupidity to ensue until the kinks are worked out and everybody moves on to some new scapegoat that’s said to be tarnishing the sanctity of The Beautiful Game sometime around November.
Beyond the rules of the road, the Hammers blow bubbles, the Reds sing Gerry and the Pacemakers, and the Magpies stage an annual fan mutiny. Other customs include drinking and complaining about the cost of season tickets, which should sound familiar enough to U.S. sports fans.
Get involved in the community...
Nothing keeps you coming back weekend-in, weekend-out until freaking May 17 like an invested (literally) interest. Fantasy Premier League is the easiest way to get in over your head. The traditional format allots 100,000 imaginary dollars for 15 players of your choosing, which you then manage via transfers and lineup changes on a weekly basis. That might or might not be enough to get you out of bed for Leicester versus Newcastle on New Year's Day, but it's a start. Here's what a rough and probably hilariously naive first draft of my starting 11 looks like heading into Gameweek 1:
Finally, meet someone, fall in love, live happily ever after ...
Of course, none of this matters if you don’t eventually find something to have and something to hold. Something to finally call your own. We’re, of course, referring to Your Club, the emotional bond that miraculously turns you into a morning person and imprints the heat map of promising young central midfielders across continental Europe on your brain each and every transfer window. But who? Most sports fans are born into their fandoms. What happens when a sovereign adult is forced to think for themself? The scope of human history tells us nothing good, so before you go and pick West Ham out of a hat, here are some helpful suggestions.
Do mascots matter to you?
Then Watford F.C. is for you. The boyhood club of Sir Elton John, Watford’s crest is a Bullwinkle-looking moose, their nickname is The Hornets, and their mascot is some Donnie Darko-esque amalgamation of the two named Harry (because obviously his name would be Harry.) The Moose Hornets also play attacking mid-table football (AKA anarchy) and churn through managers like George Steinbrenner, so every weekend is a new, slightly terrifying adventure.
Do you like a good, old-fashioned dawg?
Do you own "Rudy" on Blu-ray? Does that little “+” mark make your palms sweaty and your teeth grind? Then you’re going to love A.F.C. Bournemouth, the smallest team in the Premier League who were all but bounced from organized English football as recently as 2009 before clawing their way back to the top flight, and Leicester City, who became the most improbable champion in the sport's history when they lifted the 2016 Premier League trophy as 5,000-to-1 also-rans.
How do you feel about NBA superteams?
If you pronounce “collusion” as “capitalism” and just bought a Clippers jersey to go with your closet full of Warriors gear, then Manchester City—the reigning two-time champ and prime three-peat candidate—is probably your speed. While the rest of the PL operates in something resembling real life, Manchester City are playing career mode thanks to their owner, Sheikh Mansour, the actual prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, who uses the club as his personal XBOX. And when the UAE oil baron gets bored and sells the team, don't worry, you can just bury your kit in the drawer and move on because there are no actual City fans to call you out on it.
How important is convenience to you?
Are you in the Premier League express lane? Do you, like a Ronco Showtime Rotisserie, just want to set it and forget it? Then you need only look across town at Manchester United, the original Premier League monopoly, who, despite missing out on the Champions League places last year, still have more money than god and a global legion fans who all expect Christmas everyday. That's not too much to ask, is it?
Is your name Shane Ryan?
Are you a true patriot?
If you just want to show your stars and stripes, your options are pretty limited these days. A few years ago Americans like Clint Dempsey, Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, and Geoff Cameron could all be found plying their trade across the pond, but now we’re one down to one last hope: Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic. The Hershey, Pa., kid is the most talented American soccer prospect maybe ever and is all but guaranteed minutes for Frank Lampard’s Blues this season, so make sure to tune in for Manchester United vs. Chelsea this Sunday at 11:30 a.m. to board the West London-bound hype train before it leaves for good. Elsewhere in the PL, Rams owner Stan Kroenke is pulling the purse strings over at Arsenal, so we don’t need to tell you to stay way the hell away from that one.
Is pain all? Is all pain?
Tottenham it is then.