Our 2015-2016 Premier League Preview: A Guide for Americans
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Our 2015-2016 Premier League Preview: A Guide for Americans

© Reuters Staff / Reuters

The English Premiere League kicks off its 24th season on Saturday, August 8. (English league football as a whole started in 1888, but was reorganized in the 1990s.) The season starts with a fairly high profile match between Manchester United and London-based Tottenham Hotspur, and millions of people in England and across Europe will be tuning in.

Despite the fact that the game airs at 7:45 a.m. Eastern time (pity the poor fans on the West Coast), millions of Americans will be tuning in, as well. Soccer has become more popular with Americans in recent years, with the EPL easily the most watched league. Conversations involving Man U, Arsenal, Tim Howard and Wayne Rooney are increasingly common on playgrounds, in bars and at the office. For those interested in following the league but unsure where to start, this guide is for you.

Related: EPL 2015-2016 Season Team Guide

Wait, Josh -- another article trying to get us to watch soccer?

Yes! And my efforts are paying off. Nearly 23 million people in the U.S. watched the final of the Women’s World Cup in July, cheering the phenomenal American team to victory. That’s about the same number of people who watched Game 7 of the 2014 World Series (23.5 million). Last summer’s Men’s World Cup final drew 17.3 million viewers for ABC and another 9.2 million on Univision. And it’s not just international soccer, either: Last year’s final game of the EPL drew close to five million viewers. This is especially impressive when you consider that the majority of these games are played in the morning hours on the weekend.

Doesn’t the USA have its own league?

Well, yes, but with all due respect to the ever-improving league, it is still a second class citizen in the world of soccer. With average TV viewership in the 200,000 range, it can’t even match half of the audience for British soccer in this country. There are multiple reasons for this, including the league’s unwillingness to adopt a proper schedule or the relegation system (see below), but the biggest reason is the talent. Truly great players of all nationalities play almost exclusively in Europe. Major League Soccer is still largely a collection of aging superstars earning one last paycheck and kids who just aren’t good enough to play in the big show. Despite the best efforts of a hardcore fan base (particularly on the West Coast), MLS still can’t match the excitement of the English game.

OK, fine, but why England? Don’t Messi and Ronaldo play in Spain?

Yes, they do -- but they basically play for the only two teams worth watching in the Spanish league. If you like watching two teams steamroll the opposition, have at it, but the EPL, despite its admittedly limited number of actual league winners, is a much more competitive league.

The EPL is also regarded as the fastest and most physical league. Particularly as the game has moved away from Barcelona’s fast-passing style to a more transition-based game, English soccer can have the rhythm of basketball, with both teams racing back and forth down the field. Throw in some crunching tackles and driving rain and you have good viewing.

Also, the English game has the unique advantage of being broadcast in English.

So why Don’t Messi and Ronaldo play in this league?

Ronaldo actually came into prominence as a Man U player before moving to Real Madrid. And Messi, well -- given the choice between living like a god in sunny Barcelona or dreary Manchester or London, which would you choose?

Related: Why the U.S., of All Countries, Stepped Up to Save Soccer

How does the league work?

There are 20 teams in the league from England (actually, one of them is in Wales). They each play every other team both home and away, for a total of 38 games per team. The season lasts from mid-August to mid-May. A team gets three points for a win. Both teams get a single point for a draw. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins the league. There are various tie-breaking scenarios, but I won’t bore you with that.

There’s no Super Bowl?

Not really. There is something called the FA Cup, but it’s a separate tournament unrelated to league play. However, there are substantial rewards for finishing in the various places. Finishing 3rd has real consequences that make it objectively better than finishing 4th.

Perhaps the most important fight of all is for 17th place. In probably the most interesting difference from American sports, the teams that finish 18th, 19th and 20th get demoted to the minor leagues and replaced with three from below. The difference amounts to literally tens of millions of dollars in television money, as well as immeasurable civic pride.

Granted, the points system does mean that a winner can be decided several games ahead of the end of the season, but with so much to play for in the other positions the end is rarely dull.

Related:Can a New Social Sports Network Discover The Next Lebron James?

What’s this season’s drama?

Chelsea was the all-conquering champion last year, but its preseason has been shockingly weak, while perennial also-runs Arsenal have been in dangerous form, but it always promises more than it delivers. The other big teams are all undergoing various forms of rebuilding this season, shuffling off aging or underperforming players for newer shinier models. But throwing too many new players onto a team can upset its balance. This all makes it difficult to know exactly how a given team will be this year, and that is part of the fun.

Ok, let’s get down to brass tacks: Which team should I follow?

What kind of team do you support now? Do you want an all-conquering, merciless machine? The kind of team that thinks it should win EVERY SINGLE YEAR or something’s horrible wrong? Do you want a plucky underdog that never quite makes it? Do you want a hopeless underdog that’s lucky to not get clobbered every day? Only you can answer these questions.

Here is an annotated guide to the 20 teams (in order of their finishing place from last season) that will play in the 2015-2016 season.