Saturday, May 10, 2008

Forget who's on top. It's all about who goes down.

Although much of the football* world’s attention will be focused on a rugby pitch in northwest England this weekend, that’s not where you will find the real soccer** drama.

Yes, yes, I know that the Evil Empire is poised to repeat as Premiership champions. All it will take is a win over Wigan, a team 44 points arrears of them, to get the job done and render Chelsea’s game with Bolton meaningless.

All EPL fixtures this week go at 3 p.m. GMT Sunday. The idea behind the uniform start is to ensure that all games are played fairly—it’s thought that if two teams go into a game knowing that they need only a tie (after seeing another final week game played) that they will dress the team janitor and have a tea party in the middle of the pitch, looking for the thrilling 0-0 draw. It isn’t that farfetched of a concept.

But, really there isn’t that much drama at the top. As much as I, and millions of other soccer fans around the world, badly want the Red Devils to slip up and drop points to their plucky underdog opponents this week, the chances of that happening are slim. And, even if it does, all it will mean is that the second least likable team in England will capture the title.

It’s hard to get too pumped up about it. What isn’t hard to get interested in, however, is the battle at the bottom of the table and the playoffs in the Championship to get into the EPL. That’s where the previously mentioned drama is.

With four teams still in the hunt for the final two spots in the 2008-09 EPL there is a lot to play for this weekend. Bolton, currently in 16th, is in the best position. If they can steal a point off Chelsea they will ensure their safety for next year. Even if they, as expected, lose to Chelsea it would take a series of bizarre circumstances for the Wanderers to drop as their goal differential is vastly superior to those chasing.

So, that leaves Fulham, Birmingham and Reading to hash it out for one spot. Reading has a near guaranteed three points in its pocket having drawn hapless Derby, while Fulham gets FA Cup finalist Portsmouth and Birmingham hosts Blackburn.

Shockingly, considering where the Cottagers were six-weeks ago, Fulham—which has a bit of Canadian content—controls its own destiny. Well, almost. With a six-goal differential advantage over Reading, a Fulham win would mean that Reading would have to beat Derby by a minimum of seven goals. It seems unlikely, but then again Derby has probably had the worse season in the history of the Premiership…

So, Reading has to hope that the Cottagers drop points (assuming it wins against Derby).

Birmingham is pretty much screwed in it must rely on Derby getting its 12th point of the season to have a chance. Even if that were to happen, a Fulham win would knock them down to the Championship.

But, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing as the Soft Drink Championship is where all the fun is anyway! Something I will expand upon in my next post.

* I’m not getting into the whole “do I call it football, or do I call it soccer debate.” As you will find out, I use the terms interchangeably. I’m not sure why people get so worked up about this little semantic issue.

** See, I told you so.


Andrew Bucholtz said...

The relegation race is always interesting: I wish they'd bring some equivalent into North American sports, as that would forever eliminate the whole "tank to get a draft pick" plan. What adds to it is the vast disparity in Premiership and Championship revenues, meaning that a couple of lousy points (or sometimes even goal differential) can cost a club millions. Fulham should be in decent shape to survive, especially if Portsmouth decides to rest its top guys for the Cup final. The Cottagers pulled off a nice win over Birmingham last weekend, and look to be in good form. It would be quite something if both the title race and the relegation race were decided on goal differential.

Tyler King said...

North America doesn't need a relegation race because it has playoffs, rather than awarding the championship to the #1 team in the standings. That provides the late-season excitement. Plus, minor leagues in North America are feeder leagues rather than counterparts like Europe, so it wouldn't make sense.

Well written post, though - Fulham was where I saw my first EPL match as we Canadians came by to cheer on expat Tomasz Radzinski, who isn't there anymore. Stalteri was also my favourite player on my favourite team for years, so with his loan over there I might as well hope they survive.

They've got a great chant too - "COME ON.... FULHAM .... COME ON .... FULHAM".

So creative.

Anonymous said...

tyler - the problem with the play-off system is of course that it renders the season meaningless. I mean, NHL has a 84 game preseason to eliminate the Leafs. No wonder I don't watch NHL until the playoffs, and the stop as soon as I can get my motorcycle on the road - usually in the middle of the first round.

Tyler King said...

You do mean 82 game, right?

And the playoff system is not what renders a regular season meaningless - it's the fact that way too many teams make the playoffs (the OHL is the worst offender) that renders it meaningless.

The MLB regular season, conversely, is extremely important.

Anyone else remember that year when the Jays had the second best record in baseball and missed the playoffs?

sager said...

Tyler, you were born in September 1987, were you not?

That's kind of like how I ended up being a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, whose last Super Bowl loss came when I was eight days old.