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The new fan’s 2016-17 guide to finding a favorite Premier League club

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Must read preface: For several years on my own site and then on a Western New York soccer blog, I’ve given prospective fans of the Premier League a guide to choose a team. In no way do I claim to give anything other than an opinionated overview that I believe to be a fair representation of clubs whose history far outlives even my fandom of the beautiful game. And as time goes on, this is less and less a necessity. We are talking about the biggest league in the world, after all.

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But the fact remains that people need to know what they are getting into, as I know personally of a fan or two now attached to insufferable clubs. ‘They’ had no idea that their love for a brown ale or clever nickname would lead to a lifetime of supporter misery. And now ‘they’ have got to twice watch their beloved club, massive as it is, flub its way to the second tier. Again, just what I’ve heard from ‘them’.

I almost always advocate choosing a club that isn’t already a giant because that’s my background as a proud Buffalonian, but do what feels right. Maybe you’re a Yankees or Cowboys fan who enjoys feeding off the hate of others. By all means, continue onward!

So without further ado, I submit to you my 2016-17 beginners guide to selecting a Premier League team. For each team, we’ll let you know which Americans are on their team — if any — who their fans tend to hate, and give a very loose comparison to American professional teams.

1. Arsenal
Last championship: 2003-04
Years in Premier League: 25/25
Nickname: Gunners
Location: London
American players: Gedion Zelalem
Biggest rivals: Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester United
Comparison: New York Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers

The good news, if you choose Arsenal, is that you’ll have so much company. Arsenal is the most-supported team in these here United States of America, and their passionate fan base is almost impossible to miss.

They have a massive celebrity supporter base, too, from Idris Elba to Prince Harry, Steve Earle to Jay-Z, there’s a bountiful group of shiny fans. There’s some magic to the club, for sure. French manager Arsene Wenger fashions players who play the game with flair and the club has begun to spend again after paying off a great deal of debt. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are incredible talents, and Santi Cazorla could be among the more unheralded out-and-out superstars of all-time.

For a big club, they provide their fans a fair bit of misery. They’ve won two of the last three FA Cups, but haven’t seen a Premier League title since 2004. Their club is massive, has gobs of money, and their manager still talks like he’s running a not-for-profit.

2. Bournemouth
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 2/25 (Return: 2015-16)
Nickname: Cherries
Location: Bournemouth, Dorset
American players: Emerson Hyndman
Biggest rivals: Southampton
Comparisons: Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Lightning

What young, promising manager Eddie Howe has done with this club to get them to the Premier League and keep them there is amazing. Chairman Jeff Mostyn kept the team from administration with his own money, and engineered one of the biggest rises in English soccer history. Now they’re investing in the club, and have a promising squad.

Their crest is a man heading the ball incorrectly, unless of course the Cherries player is clearing the ball from danger. We’ll be rooting for the upstarts this season.

3. Burnley
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 3/25 (Return: 2016-17)
Nickname: Clarets
Location: Burnley, Lancashire
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Blackburn Rovers, Preston North End
Comparisons: Pittsburgh Pirates, Calgary Flames

Manager Sean Dyche looks like he eats wood for breakfast, thinks condiments are for lesser weaklings, and gets in bar fights as a hobby. He expects his small market club to play in a similar fashion, and likes to use the same lineup as often as possible. SportsWorld’s Joe Posnanski wrote a story on Burnley the last time they were promoted. It was called “David and Goliath and Burnley”. Read it.

4. Chelsea
Last championship: 2014/15
Years in Premier League: 25/25
Nickname: Blues
Location: London
American players: Matt Miazga
Biggest rivals: Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham, Fulham, Millwall
Comparison: Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Redskins

A simply massive club with loads of accolades and glory — not to mention a deep-pocketed owner in a big, big city — Chelsea took a step back last season when their players seemingly quit on their abrasive but brilliant coach Jose Mourinho (now with the Manchester United). Given the huge support for Arsenal in America, it seems lots of folks hate Chelsea. New manager Antonio Conte won’t have a problem with that, nor will current forward Diego Costa and center back John Terry, two of the more detested but respected players in the world.

5. Crystal Palace
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 9/25
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Brighton & Hove Albion, Charlton Athletic, Millwall, Wimbledon
Comparisons: Memphis Grizzlies, Kansas City Royals

Palace is a truly intriguing option due to incredible fans and their manager, Alan Pardew, who is at best a goofball and at worst a lunatic. Palace is a real working-class London club, and the Eagles have flair and work rate in their club. I love their modern crest, though they aren’t new jacks. Yohan Cabaye and Andros Townsend are very good, exciting players, and both Joe Ledley and Mile Jedinak bring the steel.

6. Everton
Last championship: 1986-87
Years in Premier League: 25/25
Nickname: Toffees, The School of Science
Location: Liverpool
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Liverpool
Comparison: Boston Bruins, Denver Broncos

Everton gives you the ability to back a team with proud history, and a team involved in one of the best rivalries in sports (The Merseyside Derby with Liverpool). The club has had two of America’s biggest players in Landon Donovan and Tim Howard, and has a classy color scheme and simple crest/kit. With new investment coming and a good manager in Ronald Koeman, Everton is one of my top prospects for new Premier League fans.

7. Hull City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 5/25 (Return: 2016-17)
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Hull, Yorkshire
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Sheffield United, Leeds United
Comparisons: Sacramento Kings, Cincinnati Bengals

Hull City is back in the Premier League, but respected manager Steve Bruce quit before the season because — many believe — he was frustrated at the lack of investment in the club (which is for sale). Great nickname, colors, and “bounce-back-ability” here, and no one will accuse you of jumping on a bandwagon. You can never count out Hull, but in a sense you’d also be silly to count on them. Here’s hoping the Tigers surprise us this year.

8. Leicester City
Last championship: Last season!!!
Years in Premier League: 11/25
Nickname: Foxes
Location: Leicester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City
Comparison: Seattle Seahawks, New Jersey Devils

You could hate sports, and you’d have heard of Leicester City’s last season. The most unlikely championship story in history, with castaway players and a forgotten manager rising up to claim the Premier League crown from the richest of the rich. I can’t tell you not to root for the Foxes, though I also wouldn’t bet on them repeating the glory. That said, they’ve proven me horribly wrong before!

Foxes is a great nickname, blue is a solid color, and who doesn’t love the silky skill set of Riyad Mahrez?

9. Liverpool
Last championship: 1989-90
Years in Premier League: 25/25
Nickname: Reds
Location: Liverpool
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Everton, Manchester United
Comparison: Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Flyers

Superstar players? Check. Intense, fascinating manager? Check. Title-winning history you can brag (and brag and brag) about? Check. Still plenty of misery to feel like you’re somehow an underdog? Check.

No wonder American fans have seemingly flocked to the Anfield set.

10. Manchester City
Last championship: 2013/14
Years in Premier League: 20/25
Nickname: Citizens
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Manchester United
Comparison: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Angels

Some folks will tell you that you can’t support Man City because they’re a club that’s done all their recent winning on the backs of incredible investment from deep-pocketed owners, but as time goes on we’re learning they were an early-adopter. Still, City has spent crazy money, most recently to bring one of the most brilliant managers in the world in Pep Guardiola. Plus, you’ll love the same team as Noel and Liam Gallagher, and their banter game is, generally speaking, top notch.

11. Manchester United
Last championship: 2012-13
Years in Premier League: 25/25
Nickname: Red Devils
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Liverpool, Leeds United, Manchester City
Comparison: New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, New England Patriots

A little shine came off United when it struggled to keep up legendary manager Alex Ferguson’s lofty standards once the Scottish coach left the team. But United has spent almost as much money as any club on Earth and should never, ever be considered anything but a favorite with the biggest financial influence in the game. Now with vilified but brilliant manager Jose Mourinho and the fanciest attack this side of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Manchester United can get back to seriously contending for any trophy in the world. And you can sort of feel like you aren’t jumping on any sort of bandwagon.

12. Middlesbrough
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 15/25 (Return: 2016-17)
Nickname: The Boro, Smoggies
Location: Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire
American players: Brad Guzan
Biggest rivals: Sunderland, Newcastle United
Comparisons: Buffalo Bills, New Jersey Devils

There is no American club that would be considered the third-biggest club in its market, is there? Here’s the good news, it may not be that way for long. With Newcastle laboring in the Championship for at least a season and Sunderland a consistent struggler, The Boro is taking advantage of its return to the top flight by bringing players aboard who can help keep it in the Premier League. Boro also made an unlikely run to the League Cup in 2004, and thrived in the Europa League (going all the way to the final before losing). They embraced a nickname, Smoggies, which was once foisted on the club by dissenting opposition fans. I respect the heck out of that.

13. Southampton
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 18/25
Nickname: Saints
Location: Southampton
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth
Comparison: St. Louis Blues, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Vikings

Saints have a whole lot of “Moneyball” to their program, and chairman Ralph Krueger literally wrote books on leadership. The ex-NHL coach is an incredibly impressive man, and the way Southampton has replaced assets with cheaper assets is admirable. With one of the best young programs in the world, pound-for-pound, and a certain bit of magic around St Mary’s (their home ground) you could do worse than Southampton.

14. Stoke City
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 9/25 (Return 2008-09)
Nickname: Potters
Location: Stoke-on-Trent
American players: Geoff Cameron
Biggest rivals: Port Vale
Comparison: Green Bay Packers (without the titles), Portland Trailblazers

There’s a bit of “How are they doing this?” to Stoke City’s continued improvement, and manager Mark Hughes has brought a real strong mentality to the squad. Stoke has one of the most unheralded American stars in history when it comes to Geoff Cameron, and the Potters are a true underdog that has found a way to bring and keep tremendous talent to a smaller market.

15. Sunderland
Last championship: 1935-36
Years in Premier League: 16/25
Nickname: Mackems, Black Cats
Location: Sunderland, Tyne-upon-Wear
American players: Lynden Gooch
Biggest rivals: Newcastle United, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Sacramento Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs

There’s decent tradition in Sunderland to go with new manager David Moyes, who many think has gotten a bum rap from his last few managerial stops, but the club has seen a series of seasons that include hanging out near the bottom of the league before surviving by the skin of its teeth. It’s incredible that they even survived their moribund last three seasons to remain in the top flight. Sunderland is owned by an American and has a relationship with DC United of Major League Soccer. Another fun fact: their nickname isn’t an actual word (Mackem is short for Make Them, abbreviated).

16. Swansea City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 6/25
Nickname: The Swans, The Jacks
Location: Wales
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Cardiff City
Comparison: Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Suns

A big time rugby area, Swansea is also a travelers dream: friends have told me it’s a gorgeous place to visit. They flirted with relegation last season and have watched a lot of assets go, but there’s no debating that Swans are a group that grind for their fans and city. The Welsh side has made some head-turning signings in Mike Van der Hoorn and Borja Baston, but also let mainstay Ashley Williams and star striker Andre Ayew leave town.

17. Tottenham Hotspur
Last championship: 1960-61
Years in Premier League: 25/25
Nickname: Spurs
Location: London
American players: DeAndre Yedlin, Cameron Carter-Vickers
Biggest rivals: Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham
Comparison: Washington Capitals, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Cowboys

Spurs are a good team to pick. They have an awesome name, an inventive manager and a cool-albeit-goofy logo. They also play in London, so visiting them is an A-plus idea. Tottenham hates Arsenal, so it’s a good bet for vitriol as well.

Spurs also have a ton of extremely likable and/or exciting players, and have surged into the UEFA Champions League. The players are strong and deep, with superstar striker Harry Kane, young flash Dele Alli, and midfield general Moussa Dembele. There’s also terrific French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. There’s really a terrific tradition at the North London club and perhaps they’ve moved from being “so close” to being truly elite again.

18. Watford
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 4/25 (Return: 2015-16)
Nickname: Hornets
Location: Hertfordshire
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Luton Town
Comparisons: Arizona Coyotes

The Hornets finally made it to the Premier League without being instantly relegated. The club questionably cut ties with manager Quique Flores, and will be counting on star forwards Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo to do a lot of heavy lifting this year. Sir Elton John’s favorite club, this is a side that once gave USMNT star Jay DeMerit a shot… and he ended up their captain.

19. West Bromwich Albion
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 11/25
Nickname: Baggies, West Brom
Location: West Midlands
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Aston Villa, Wolverhampton
Comparison: Milwaukee Brewers, Indiana Pacers

I’ll let Wikipedia show you why I have respect for the fans of this club:

“Albion have always enjoyed loyal and passionate support… Supporters of the team celebrate goals by bouncing up and down and chanting “Boing Boing”. This dates back to the 1992–93 season, when the team was promoted from the new Second Division. In recent years fans of the team have celebrated the end of each season by adopting a fancy dress theme for the final away match, including dressing as vikings in 2004 in honour of Player of the Season Thomas Gaardsøe. In 2002–03 Albion’s fans were voted the best in the Premier League by their peers, while in the BBC’s 2002 “national intelligence test” Test the Nation, they were found to be ‘more likely to be smarter than any other football supporters, registering an average score of 138′.”

That said, until they cut ties with manager Tony Pulis, they will not be playing a style of football I’d enjoy watching on a week-to-week basis. Their fans pride themselves on enjoying beautiful football, and Pulis has not been bringing that.

20. West Ham United
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 21/25
Nickname: Hammers, the Irons
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Millwall, Leyton Orient
Comparison: Brooklyn Nets, Oakland Raiders

West Ham United has a lot of money, a new stadium, and an incredibly deep team given its relative lack of big stage success in recent years. There is every reason to believe West Ham is primed to surge into annual contention for UEFA Champions League places and, given their city and backing, you could be getting on board with a next level club while they’re still an underdog story (of sorts).

The focus of some hard-nosed supporter stories — the film “Green Street Hooligans” was penned about fictional West Ham fans — the Hammers have plenty of grit on the pitch as well.

Pique: Copa-losing Barca still “really hurting” from UCL exit

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Barcelona was the favorite to win La Liga, the UEFA Champions League, and the Copa del Rey for the majority of the season, but only claimed one.

Liverpool’s amazing comeback to beat Barca in the second leg of the UCL semifinals met Saturday’s loss to Valencia in the Copa del Rey Final to give Barca a league title alone.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Even with that La Liga advantage being decisive — Barca carried the table by 11 points over Atletico Madrid and finished 19 ahead of Real Madrid — there’s a very dour mood and promised change for the Camp Nou set.

And Gerard Pique says it all traces back to the loss against Liverpool. From The Liverpool Echo:

“I believe that if we had gotten through at Liverpool, we would have won the treble. We would have come here [to the Copa del Rey final] with a different mood, and I’m convinced we would have won the Champions League final, but that is football. We are really, really hurting.”

There are hints of a massive clear-out at Barcelona, with Lionel Messi and Pique two of the only safe bets to stay. When will Barca get over it?

Brazilian team tangles in locker room futmesa (video)

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It was defense versus attack in the Brazil dressing room.

Neymar and Gabriel Jesus squared off with international teammates Filipe Luis and Ederson in a game of futmesa/table soccer this week.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Neymar and Filipe Luis are used to be on different sides of the field from their time in La Liga, while Jesus and Ederson are teammates at Manchester City.

Brazil is hosting this summer’s Copa America and is the favorite to win its first tournament since 2007, when it claimed its fourth in five tries.

It’s really impressive stuff for us normal to subpar athletes, even if standard for those with such deft talent.

Quite a winner from Man City’s young striker.

Jovic could see himself in Premier League, Serie A

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Maybe Luka Jovic’s presumed move to Real Madrid won’t happen this summer.

Or at all.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been tipped for a move away from the Bundesliga after another strong campaign, and taking the center forward reins from Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Several outlets reported the deal as done, but Jovic isn’t speaking that way (or at least the Serbian is throwing us off the scent.

From Goal.com:

“In terms of the physique, the Bundesliga is very demanding, but after the games against Chelsea or Inter Milan, I personally had the feeling that I could feel even better [playing] in the Premier League or Serie A. … The way the teams play there suits me better.”

Jovic scored 27 times in 48 appearances for Frankfurt, adding seven assists at the tender age of 21. Ten of those came in the Europa League, and we’re not talking about flooding the nets of minnows; Jovic scored against Chelsea (twice), Marseille (three), Lazio (two), and Inter Milan (once).

Report: Chelsea, Real $38M apart on Hazard

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How much for Hazard?

Real Madrid are willing to pay $127 million, no small fee, to bring Eden Hazard from Chelsea, but that’s well off the Blues’ evaluation according to Sky Sports.

Chelsea sees Hazard’s price as $165 million. Belgian writer Kristof Terreur told Sky that Hazard wants his future sorted by June 4.

[ MORE: Bayern wins double ]

The Blues’ superstar is entering the final year of his contract, and could begin negotiating with other clubs in January and leave on a free transfer.

Hazard turns 29 in January. He recorded 19 goals and 16 assists in 51 matches this season, his best output in a Blues uniform.

The report says Chelsea feels no pressure to sell Hazard, but it would be a surprise if it dug in its heels too deeply considering the state of the Belgian’s contract.

Even for Chelsea, letting over $100 million walk out the door is wild, and for all Hazard’s won with Chelsea there’s also been consternation under several managers and a more than occasional habit of disappointing on the table.