English Premier League Preview: Meet Your… Mid-Table

Who says there’s something wrong with being average? These teams strive for complacency and often achieve it. Every year in the EPL there are about six teams who avoid the line between contender and relegation fighter. These are the most likely to keep your blood pressure down by January.

Aston Villa
Location: Birmingham
Stadium (capacity): Villa Park (42,682)
Nicknames: The Villa, The Villans, The Lions, The Claret and Blue
Last EPL title: none (Division 1 title in 1980-1981)
Biggest Rivals: Birmingham City (Second City Derby) and West Bromwich Albion
History: Much like the Cubs of the early 20th century, Villa fans of the late 1800s probably wondered, “When will the good times stop rolling?” Villa saw a great deal of success by winning five league titles just as the twentieth century hit. But things have dried up and they only have one league title and one Champions League title to show for it since 1910. The transition of ownership will be crucial going forward.
You may like Aston Villa if… you like the Milwaukee Bucks. Two teams with rich but old histories, Milwaukee and Aston Villa have had (or will have) recent changes in ownership. Poor talent and even poorer seasons have left a bad taste in the fan bases mouths. I’m not so sure I would like to visit either city on a weekend off either.
Where to watch in Chicago: The Globe Pub

Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Stadium (capacity): St. James Park
Nickname: The Magpies
Last EPL title: none (Division 1 title in 1926-27)
Biggest Rival: Sunderland (Tyne-Wear Derby)
History: Much like Villa in the Midlands, Newcastle is a team in north England that had its most successful stretch at the turn of the twentieth century. The Magpies have fluctuated between the EPL and the second tier, League championship, since WWII with not much more than mid-table complacency to show for it.
You may like Newcastle if… you like the Oakland Raiders. If the matching colors and overall unpleasant cities weren't enough to the pair the two, their fans share the strongest connection. Newcastle fans are Raiders fans except worse, like way worse. Skeptical? Do you remember any Raider fans punching a horse in the face? Probably not.
Where to watch in Chicago: The Globe, Fado, or AJ Hudson’s if you can find enough Newcastle fans organized.

Location: Southampton (Southern England)
Stadium (capacity): St. Mary’s Stadium (32,589)
Nickname: The Saints
Last EPL title: none (runners-up in 1983-84)
Biggest Rival: Portsmouth
History: Southampton has had a great deal of stability in the top division of English soccer since about the 60s with only a few years of relegation. Southampton’s most recent climb to the EPL was the most dramatic. The Saints climbed 51 positions in 26 weeks. Southampton though has a self-destructive habit of selling their best players (Gareth Bale, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert).
You may like Southampton if… you like the Miami Marlins. With a management perpetually working under the impression that talent should be shipped at the peak of their value, Southampton and Miami live by one mantra: we’ll try and win tomorrow. Granted, Southampton doesn't have the pockets of Miami, the two rosters can cycle between exciting and painful to watch.
Where to watch in Chicago: anywhere they’re on. Southampton does not have an organized Chicago supporters group.

Stoke City
Location: Stoke-on-Trent
Stadium (capacity): Britannia Stadium (27,740)
Nickname: The Potters
Last EPL title: none, not even close.
Biggest Rival: West Bromwich Albion
History: Stoke is the second oldest professional soccer club in the world, which is really the only accomplishment they can hang their hat on. Stoke has been in the EPL since being promoted in 2008 and has shown flashes of above-averageness. In 2011, they were runners-up in the FA Cup Final.
You may like Stoke City if… you like the Cleveland Browns. These are two teams who have seemed to be around forever. Both had shorts absences from top competition in the 1990s. Also, they never win anything. They've been around for a combined 200ish years and between the two of them, they've been bone dry of a trophy since the U.S. left Vietnam.
Where to watch in Chicago: Yeah, they won’t be on TV anywhere. Just hope they’re playing a contender and try not to cause a scene at the other club’s home bar.

Location: Sunderland
Stadium (capacity): Stadium of Light
Nickname: The Black Cats
Last EPL title: none (Division 1 title in 1935-1936)
Biggest Rival: Newcastle (see above)
History: We've reached a bit of a common theme with the mid-table players: enormous past successes are fleeting. Sunderland was a team that was the standard of English soccer just before the twentieth century. They also have more English titles than Chelsea and Manchester City. They haven’t been able to consistently keep a stay in the top division but became the first team to be in last place on Boxing Day to avoid relegation in 2014.
You may like Sunderland if… you like the Toronto Maple Leafs. These two teams undoubtedly share immensely successful past. There’s only one catch, I’m not sure anyone alive remembers the good old days.
Where to watch in Chicago: Again, I wouldn't count on them being on TV too much.

West Ham United
Location: East London
Stadium (capacity): The Boleyn Ground (35016)
Nickname: The Irons, The Hammers
Last EPL title: none
Biggest Rival: Tottenham
History: West Ham is one of only eight teams to have never dropped below the second tier of English soccer, but unfortunately they’re the only one of the eight to have not won the league title. The future is bright though, starting in 2014 the Hammers will move into the Olympic Stadium that hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics. This should give West Ham some monetary freedom to sign talent going forward.
You may like West Ham if… you like the New York Mets. When you’re the fourth or fifth most popular team in the country’s most popular city, you’re probably not going to have huge runs of success nor are you going to step on too many toes in the process.
Where to watch in Chicago: The Globe, probably.

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Filed under: EPL Soccer

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