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The 2021-22 English Premier League: What it is, why it matters, and why you should watch

The biggest sporting league in the world returns Friday. It’s like the NFL, but the owner with the most money wins. And the drama and subplots have never been better.

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Christian Pulisic of Chelsea reacts following a Chelsea FC Training Session ahead of the UEFA Super Cup 2021 match between Chelsea FC and Villarreal at Windsor Park on August 10, 2021 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

If you’re a sports fan but not a soccer fan, there’s for sure someone in your life that cares way too much about the English Premier League.

He or she has multiple jerseys for some team with a funny name and no mascot, wears Adidas Samba’s on all occasions, and wakes up at weird hours to watch games on weekends when they could be sleeping in. And often goes to bars with other fellow fans that start drinking quite early on those days.

So what’s the big deal? We’ll answer as many questions as you might have about the only sports league in the world that dwarfs the NFL when it comes to money, passion, enthusiasm .. and especially off-field drama.

Rules and format

It’s brilliant in its simplicity: There’s 20 teams, and you play everyone home and away once starting Friday, August 13th, with the season ending on May 22nd, 2022. Three points for a win, one point for a tie. No playoffs, no wild cards, no flukes. The best team usually wins, and will have survived the toughest gauntlet in world football to win the trophy. You don’t get a ring in soccer, you get a winner’s medal, but yes there’s still a parade.

And even if you don’t win the league, there’s still plenty to play for. The top four teams will play in the UEFA Champions League the next season, which is the competition for the best club team in all of Europe and the biggest prize in all of professional soccer.

The fifth and sixth place teams will play in the Europa League in 2022-23, basically the NIT to the Champions League’s NCAA Tournament.

And new this year is the UEFA Europa Conference League which everyone already hates, and Tottenham Hotspur is the unlucky seventh-place team from last season that has to act like they care about it. Think CBI or CIT in college basketball terms, but less glamorous.

Most EPL games are on Saturdays, many at the traditional starting time of 3 p.m. in England (10 a.m. ET). But there’s also early and late games on Saturday, some on Sundays, and even Monday nights too. Plus over the Christmas/Boxing Day/New Year’s holidays everyone plays a lot, and that’s even more fun as it’s wall-to-wall football.

There’s other domestic and European competitions running concurrently during the season (Carabao Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Champions League, Europa League), but the EPL is the big one everyone wants to win. You might trade a Premier League trophy for a Champions League trophy (and you for sure would if you’re Manchester City), but that’s it.

All the teams are in England, and sometimes Swansea City sneaks in despite being in Wales, but not this year. For 2021-22 there’s six teams from London (Arsenal, Brentford, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United), two on the South Coast (Southampton, Brighton & Hove Albion), two on Merseyside (ancient rivals Liverpool and Everton), two in Manchester (City and United), and the other eight are spread out everywhere.

Newcastle United basically plays on the North Pole, don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Promotion and Relegation

This is the best part of the sport.

The worst three teams after each season drop down to the EFL Championship, and the best two teams are called up from the Championship to the Premier League, with a playoff for a third spot held for the No. 3 to No. 6 teams. Don’t let the name Championship fool you, it’s Triple A. And if you’re in it, that means there is basically no chance of your team winning anything meaningful until you’re back in the Premier League again.

Those playoff games each season are worth literally hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s the difference between playing the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers next season, or the Gwinnett Stripers and St. Paul Saints. The pressure is almost unimaginable.

The Big Six

Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are the “Big Six” clubs. That means even when they’re really bad, they’re rarely if ever in danger of relegation because of the massive amounts of money and infrastructure they have supporting the team.

Since the EPL started in 1992 all six of those teams have been in the top flight every season except for Man City, who has been a fixture since 2002. And with Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the Abu Dhabi ruling family as Man City’s owner, they’re not going anywhere.

Before ‘92 the EPL was the First Division, and while the TV rights money was split up differently, it was basically the same thing competitively with the best 20 teams in the same format.

The only team outside of the Big Six to be in the EPL for all 30 seasons is Everton, the 5-iron of English football. You’re not winning any golf tournaments if your best club is a 5-iron, but it also means you’re probably going to make the cut each week. That’s Everton: The median club in both soccer and golf. Up the Toffees!

American Players in the Premier League

Christian Pulisic is the future of American soccer, the captain of the US Men’s National Team, and a part-time starter for Chelsea. He won a UEFA Champions League last season, and is on talent by far the best non-goalkeeping American to ever touch a blade of EPL grass. With apologies to US legends like Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride .. it’s not close.

Your Twitter feed will be full of Chelsea and non-Chelsea fans screaming “PUT HIM IN” every game he’s not in the starting lineup. The kid from Hershey, PA is the real deal, and the USA has never had a top-flight, world-class striker before. He’s breaking new ground here.

Zack Steffen is the backup goalkeeper at Manchester City behind Brazil’s Ederson, which means Steffen is not moving up without an injury. The American might be on the move here soon as he’s good enough to play basically anywhere in the world but where he is, and will want to be playing regularly ahead of World Cup qualifying and Qatar 2022.

Owen Otasowie has been capped by the USMNT and has six appearances for Wolverhampton. He’ll want some first-team time so he can get a better look for the USMNT soon, or he might want to move to another club.

Cameron Carter-Vickers has been loaned by Tottenham Hotspur to so many clubs he should get paid with pawn shop interest. Teams do that to give their backups a chance to play competitively when they just have too many bodies. Remember there’s no limit on how many players a club can own, just a limit on how many can be on the bench for a game.

Carter-Vickers is back with the North London side, and might make some appearances this season.

Random EPL Fun Facts, Non-Big Six Teams

  • West Ham United’s song is I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, and it’s great.
  • Crystal Palace fans are lunatics, generally considered some of the best anywhere. South London And Proud is a thing.
  • Only two non-Big Six clubs have ever won the Premier League: Blackburn Rovers in 1995 (they’re now in the Championship), and Leicester City in 2016 in one the biggest upsets in sports history. The Foxes were 5000-1 to win the trophy before the season started. For neutrals, it was one of the greatest things you’ll ever see.
  • Newcastle United are the Cubs pre-World Series win: The lovable losers with a massive fan base that can’t get out of their own way. It’s ridiculous they aren’t better, but their owner is basically The Worst. If you enjoy suffering and pain, they haven’t won a top-flight trophy for a competition that still exists since 1955.
  • Brentford just got promoted by winning the Playoff, and their new stadium is very fancy, but doesn’t hold enough people to host a high school football game in West Texas: Capacity 17,250.
  • Elton John used to own EPL returning-Watford, and is still a massive fan of the club. They yo-yo’ed down in 2020, but popped right back up finishing second in the Championship in 2021.
  • Only five teams have won all four professional divisions of English football (EPL/First Division, Championship/Second Division, League One/Third Division, League Two/Fourth Division). Two of them are in the Premier League this year, Burnley and Wolverhampton.

Where to watch the English Premier League

Here’s your guide to opening weekend of the 2021-22 English Premier League season

Friday, August 13th

3:00 p.m. ET
Brentford vs. Arsenal on NBCSN.

Saturday, August 14th

7:30 a.m. ET
Manchester United vs. Leeds United: 7:30 a.m. (NBCSN)

10:00 a.m. ET
Burnley vs. Brighton (Peacock)
Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace (Peacock)
Watford vs. Aston Villa (Peacock)
Leicester City vs. Wolverhampton (USA Network)
Everton vs. Southampton (NBCSN)

12:30 p.m. ET
Norwich City vs. Liverpool (Peacock, NBC)

Sunday, August 15

9:00 a.m. ET
Newcastle United vs. West Ham United (NBCSN)

11:30 a.m. ET
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City (NBCSN)

Remember the home team is listed first in soccer, as opposed to American sports where the road team is listed first. Also you see half the games for opening weekend are in the traditional “Saturday at 3:00 p.m.” in England slot.

NBC will be the sole provider of EPL coverage on all season on all of its platforms, including its paid Peacock streaming service.

If you are not in front of a television, the NBC Sports mobile app will offer streaming coverage of the NBC, NBCSN, and USA games, but you’ll need a cable subscription for access. If you don’t have one, you can get a free trial for USA and NBC Sports Network through YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, AT&T TV Now, FuboTV, or Sling TV to stream the contests.

If you need Peacock, you can subscribe to the service here.