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      Smack Zone — Chelsea

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      How to Pick an English Soccer Club (and Why You Should)

      [caption id="attachment_1018" align="aligncenter" width="474"]English Soccer Like it or not, now that NBC has extended its deal with the Premier League another six seasons, English soccer is here to stay. Illustration: Steve Hill[/caption] You need to pick a team from the English Premier League. Pick a team and love it. Hate it, too, sometimes, because that’s the nature of the sport they call football. But pick a team and support it, because as much as you love your current U.S. teams – and love to hate your rivals – you haven’t experienced true sports passion until you’ve channeled your attention toward the English game. A few things you ought to know: The top tier of English soccer is, as mentioned, the Premier League. There are 20 teams, and they play each other twice (home and away) during the 38-game, nine-month season. While the top tier of English football has been contested since the First Division was founded in 1888, the formation of the Premier League in 1992 moved the culture away from the rampant hooliganism that marred the sport in the 1970s and ‘80s and toward a more corporate image, bolstered by big TV contracts. In the U.S., NBC just negotiated a six-year extension of its deal to broadcast every game of the Premier League season on its cable and broadcast properties. The English game is here to stay. Oh, a couple more things. There is no post-season. When the regular season ends, the champion is crowned. Also, there are two domestic tournaments that teams from every English soccer division compete for each year – the League Cup and the Football Association (FA) Cup. In addition, the top five or six teams in the Premier League compete in ongoing, season-long tournaments with teams from other European leagues – the Champions League and the Europa League. The league takes a few weekends off during the season for “international breaks,” during which the players who are good enough compete for their national teams in friendly matches or qualifiers for competitions such as the European Football Championship (the Euro Cup). Also, there's this: The three Premier League teams that finish in 18th-20th place are relegated to the second division (called the Championship) for the ensuing season. They are replaced in the Premier League by the two teams that finish at the top of the Championship, along with a third team that wins a playoff among the third-sixth-place teams. This is known as promotion, and it means the teams enjoy a SUPER HUGE payday (as much as 60 million pounds) and get to play with the big boys for at least one year. Got all that? Good. Because now it gets a bit more complex. How, exactly, does an American go about picking an English team to support? Well, start by acknowledging that it might be more fun to simply choose one of the two MEGA teams from Spain – Barcelona or Real Madrid – and enjoy their respective romps through that country’s relatively weak La Liga schedule. If you love winning, if nothing else really matters to you, if you gravitate toward high-salaried superstars who are guaranteed to post video-game-like performances match after match after match, by all means follow Real Madrid or Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo. Lionel Messi. Either one could be considered the Michael Jordan of soccer. Or maybe one is Jordan, the other LeBron James. Whatever. They’re great, they win all the things, and (yawn) … sorry, got a little bored, there. But … If you want passion – true passion – the kind of passion that forces you to wake up at 6:30 on a Saturday or Sunday morning for a pregame show … go for the English game. You won’t be sorry. Do yourself a favor this weekend. Find a local pub/sports bar that shows Premier League games on the telly in the morning. Do a Google search for your city and, say, Liverpool or Arsenal fan club. That should help you find the places you’re looking for. Set your alarm Saturday morning and head down to the pub to catch the 7:45 a.m. ET Chelsea-Arsenal London Derby (local rivalry games are called “derbies,” which is pronounced “darbies”). Yes, it’s early. But listen – defending champion Chelsea is mired in an early-season funk that has them flirting with the relegation zone, and London derbies are always a fantastic spectacle. It’s a good introduction to the league, if you have not already been caught by its history, passion and – yes – the beauty of it. So, back to the question at hand. What team is right for you? We’re not going to try to re-invent the wheel here. We’ll come right and tell you that Tottenham Hotspur is the official team of the Smack Zone, and that our bitter rival is Arsenal. It’s like Red Sox-Yankees on steroids, that rivalry. We love it. Furthermore: Come on you Spurs! We still miss this guy, Gareth Bale, who took his talents south to Real Madrid for a record transfer fee of $134 million in 2013: [caption id="attachment_1019" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Gareth Freaking Bale. He's taken his talents to Real Madrid, but they still miss him at Tottenham. Gareth Freaking Bale. He's taken his talents to Real Madrid, but they still miss him at Tottenham.[/caption] (We've been ordered to insert a disclaimer here: No one else at Smack Apparel gives a crap  about Tottenham Hotspur! – Smack Apparel Management) OK, then. Moving on ... So, here’s the thing. A lot of publications already provided handy, dandy guides on how to pick your Premier League team. We’ve decided to help you out by listing a few of the most useful, starting with the recent Buzzfeed quiz: What Premier League Club Are You? Here’s one that helps you pick a team based on your favorite rapper: Choosing a Premier League Club Based on Your Favorite Rapper. Here’s one from USA Today that provides oddly relevant non-sequiturs for evidence: Your Guide to Picking a Favorite Premier League Team. And here are three more that take a bit more measured approach to helping you with the selection process: How to Pick a Premier League Team and Not Look Like a Fool. (From Slant.) A VICE Sports GUide to How to Pick an English Premier League team. The New Fan's 2015-16 Guide to Picking a New Premier League Club. (From NBC.) And here’s a video of a cat that got loose on the pitch during a Liverpool-Tottenham match a few years ago: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keOEmSCiPI8]

      5 Things: Winston in Good Company, Gator on Gator, a Little Soccer Talk

      OK, it was ugly. Uglier than pre-boiled crab meat. Uglier than school cafeteria lunch smeared on the walls after a food fight. Uglier than a lot of things associated with Jameis Winston. Bucs fans could not have imagined anything this ugly, this soon: Titans 42, Tampa Bay 14. And it wasn’t even THAT close. It actually was uglier than the average four-TD blowout. What we need is perspective. So, here’s a related, ugly little statistic to keep in mind after Famous Jameis’ less-than-stellar debut as quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2-10. That was the combined record in debut NFL starts for the past 12 QBs selected with the No. 1 overall pick. These guys, like Winston, all lost their first NFL starts as rookies:

      • Andrew Luck, Colts
      • Cam Newton, Panthers
      • Sam Bradford, Rams
      • Matthew Stafford, Lions
      • JaMarcus Russell, Raiders
      • Alex Smith, 49ers
      • Eli Manning, Giants
      • Carson Palmer, Bengals
      • Tim Couch, Browns
      • Peyton Manning, Colts
      Among the quarterbacks selected with the No. 1 overall pick since 1998, only David Carr (Texans) and Michael Vick (Falcons) celebrated victory in their first NFL starts. Carr’s team finished 4-12 that year, and Vick was 4-for-12 passing in his first Atlanta start. What can we read into Marcus Mariota’s brilliance (158.3 passer rating) for Tennessee and Winston’s ugly incompetence Sunday at Raymond James Stadium? Not much, frankly. One horrible day does not a bust make. Similarly, one fantastic day does not mean Mariota is destined for the Hall of Fame. Still, if you’re a Bucs fan today, the question naturally becomes: What if? And that’s legit. It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if the result would have been reversed if Mariota wore pewter, red and white on Sunday instead of Titans red, white and blue. It’s a question we won’t be able to answer for months or even years. Yet, today, it is telling that Bucs fans can ask that question without an ounce of hesitation. It’s OK to ask the question in the wake of that kind of embarrassment on the football field. Now, how will Winston answer? That’s what we’ll be watching in the weeks ahead. Gator on Gator [caption width="300" id="attachment_980" align="aligncenter"]Gators Tackling Image: SB Nation[/caption]Jarrad Davis made perhaps the most important tackle of the day for the University of Florida Saturday in its 31-24 victory against East Carolina. What made it newsworthy was that the Gators defender didn’t tackle a Pirate – he tackled teammate Alex McAlister after McAlister recovered a fumble and headed needlessly to the end zone. Ah, nice job, Jarrad. Heads up play. A far, far better instance of Gator on Gator than this infamous moment from 2013 against Georgia Southern: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05h49R4QX9U] Super Dumb The Giants had it locked up Sunday night against Cowboys. It could have been a game that threw Dallas into disarray already – a tough opening week loss, compounded by losing star WR Dez Bryant to a broken foot for at least five weeks. Instead, the Giants inexplicably gave the Cowboys a last gasp by passing, rather than running, when the game clock was winding down. Think the New York media was pissed about it? Check out this game story from the Daily News: Questionable Call Costs Giants. Coach Tom Coughlin took the blame, as he should have. It’s a comfort, actually, to know that multiple-Super Bowl winners like Coughlin and Eli Manning can suffer this kind of serious brain cramp. It puts our own fallibility into perspective. We’re sure Giants fans can appreciate that big-picture outlook. Right? Yeah. Sure they can. Chelsea's Not-So-Special One  During the 2014-15 Premier League season, Chelsea was as dominant as a club could be. It won the league by a whopping eight points (87 points to 79 for second place Manchester City), it won the League Cup domestic tournament, and it lost three games in league play ALL SEASON. With the “Special One,” Jose Mourinho, back in the manager’s chair, a long stretch of prominence among Europe’s soccer elite seemed inevitable. Nope. After a 3-1 loss to Everton Saturday, Chelsea finds itself in 17th place out of 20 teams. It was Mourinho’s third league loss in five games already. So far this season, Mourinho has complained about his own team physician taking too long to treat an injured player during a game and has cursed out Everton manager Roberto Martinez when Martinez had the audacity to speak first to members of the media after Saturday’s game. This is glorious for Chelsea haters all over England and the world. Watching the Special One implode is an unusual experience, and the schadenfreude is thick in the air in London these days. Want an American equivalent? It would be like if defending national champion Ohio State had lost a squeaker at Virginia Tech, then got blown out at home against Hawaii this season. Chelsea’s struggles are a wonderful life lesson. Take nothing for granted, even if you have a Russian billionaire bankrolling your season. Oh, and it gets no easier for Mourinho’s lads this week. After a Champions League match against Maccabi Tel-Aviv Wednesday, they face title contenders Arsenal Saturday in what will surely be a scintillating London derby match. Brace yourself. The Special One is slipping. Uncle The biggest winners of the football weekend were, without a doubt, the competing one-week fantasy sports services Draft Kings and Fan Duel. We sincerely hope you didn’t give in to temptation and play the latest drinking game – slam your beer/beverage of choice throughout the duration of every Draft Kings or Fan Duel commercial. If you did, we don’t envy you the headache you woke up with this morning. Remember: Friends don’t let friends play drinking games tied to the hundreds and hundreds of Fan Duel and Draft Kings ads.