English Premier League predictions 2016-2017

English Premier League Predictions 2016-2017

Last season, Leicester City washed away the ennui that had accumulated since 2004, the last time a club other than Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City were champions of England. It speaks volumes about the current state of the game that these rank outsiders, who narrowly avoided relegation the previous season, became every neutral’s second side and plucky underdog against England’s mega-rich clubs. Leicester City are, of course, only moderately rich, having been purchased in 2010 by Thai-led consortium, Asian Football Investments. That sleight of hand was made possible by their affable manager, Claudio Ranieri, and the fact that their team consisted of hidden gems (Mahrez, Kanté, Vardy) and players who failed to make the grade at more glamorous clubs (Drinkwater, Albrighton, Schmeichel, Simpson).

Their tremendous accomplishment should give every team the belief that they, too, can achieve the improbable. More likely, normal service will be resumed, though there are a number of intriguing subplots to this season. Foremost is the renewal of hostilities between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho at Manchesters City and United. Their rivalry comes against the backdrop of some obscene transfer fees, including United’s world record £89m for Paul Pogba, a player who left them on a free transfer four years ago. Pogba, in my view, lacks the consistency and frankly the quality to justify such a price tag. But this summer has also seen the good-but-not-great Gonzalo Higuaín move for £75.3m, and John Stones, who failed to even feature for a diabolical England side at Euro 2016, being bought for £47.5m.

Here are my predictions for how they will all finish, with key players in parenthesis.

  1. Manchester City (De Bruyne)
  2. Manchester United (De Gea)
  3. Arsenal (Sanchez)
  4. Chelsea (Hazard)
  5. Tottenham Hotspur (Eriksen)
  6. Everton (Williams)
  7. Liverpool (Firmino)
  8. West Ham (Noble)
  9. Southampton (Tadic)
  10. Stoke City (Arnautović)
  11. Bournemouth (Ibe)
  12. Watford (Deeney)
  13. Leicester City (Mahrez)
  14. West Brom (Rondón)
  15. Crystal Palace (Cabaye)
  16. Burnley (Arfield)
  17. Swansea City (Sigurðsson)
  18. Middlesbrough (Negredo)
  19. Sunderland (Defoe)
  20. Hull (Huddlestone)

FA Cup: Arsenal
Europa League: Napoli
Champions League: Barcelona
La Liga: Barcelona
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich
Ligue 1: PSG
Serie A: Juventus

englandExit

Mid-Euro 2016

Growing up in 80s and 90s America, I was starved for televised soccer. The only reliable source was Dutch football at 6am, featuring exotic sides like Willem II, Go Ahead Eagles, and NEC Breda. That was immediately followed by Gaelic football, an intriguing chimera of soccer and rugby, which I’ve never seen or heard of since. On very special occasions, I stumbled across a European Cup match, most often involving Manchester United against a classic club from the mainland. I cursed as Nicky Butt shot high over the bar into a sea of ominous red flares. I swooned as Lee Sharpe used his heel to drag in a cross behind his standing leg against Barcelona. Given a binary choice between English and Dutch football, I chose to bear the cross of St George.

My first real memory of a major tournament was the England-less World Cup in 1994. I drank in even unappealing fixtures like Saudi Arabia vs Morocco and South Korea vs Bolivia. I watched Oleg Salenko put five goals past Cameroon and Diego Maradona enjoy his last, cocaine-addled swansong in the colors of Argentina. My heart sank as Ray Houghton scored to beat Italy in the group stage, while Arrigo Sachi sacrificed my hero, Roberto Baggio, following a Gianluca Pagliuca handball. I was in Foxboro later in the tournament to see Baggio drag Italy through against Nigeria, equalizing in the 88th minute before scoring the winner in extra time. My heart sank again as Baggio’s missed penalty in the final kept rising over the bar, high into the crowd at the Rose Bowl. None of this prevented me from declaring myself Buddhist and seeking my own “divine ponytail.” I’ve never loved another player in the same way.

Technology and television is scarcely recognizable in 2016 America, where I routinely ignore even moderately glamorous ties like Germany vs Slovakia. Having two kids under age two doesn’t help, but the fact is that I’m spoiled for soccer on TV. Still, I try to watch England whenever possible, because the national team continues to feel like an enigma with which I can entirely relate.

The English media, and by extension, English fans, must admit complicity in their team’s pathological failure. Familiar explanations are wheeled out in the post-mortem of each major tournament:

  1. The players just aren’t good enough, and the European successes of Premier League teams can be explained by a combination of foreign talent and successful marketing.
  2. The players are technically good enough, but haven’t the mental strength to handle the pressure of expectations.

The solutions are equally predictable:

  1. England must invest in grassroots football and coaching.
  2. England must embrace its historical strengths of athleticism, power, and directness.
  3. England must copy the style and structure of Spain/France/Iceland/latest winner.
  4. England must drastically reduce the proportion of foreign players in the Premier League.
  5. England must lower its expectations.

Each of these theories contains some element of the truth, but all are born of the obsession of England’s press and public with the national team. Given the talent at the disposal of so many managers from Erikkson to Capello to Hodgson, I’d conclude that the true barriers to success are psychological.

Monday’s defeat to Iceland gives credence to this theory. Clearly, England have hugely experienced players in Joe Hart (two Premier League titles), Gary Cahill (one Premier League title, 1 Champions League title), and Wayne Rooney (5 Premier League titles, 1 Champions League title). They have talent and dynamism in young players like Raheem Sterling, Eric Dier, Delle Alli, and Harry Kane. And yet they not only failed to perform against inferior opponents, they were absolutely embarrassed by them. Pity is the greatest form of contempt, and it was indeed pitiful to watch Kane blooter a free kick several yards wide. Rooney consistently sprayed passes into touch. Sterling couldn’t beat 31-year-old Birkir Sævarsson in a footrace. It was an astonishing collective collapse.

Barney Ronay’s excellent piece in the Guardian apportions the blame properly:

In the end the players are us and we are them. Like ill-mannered parents enraged by their ill-mannered kids, we stand there wondering why these normal, receptive human beings – not the best, but not the worst – play with such fear and angst in a knife-edge fine‑detail knockout game ringed by hostile faces.

This angst makes the English national team more complicated and compelling than any other, a subtext that in turn makes their matches more fascinating. At least for me, the day they break free from those shackles and win a tournament or even make a final, will be, at best, bittersweet.

Appy Therapy

Occupational Therapy Website

I’ve recently been working on a website for an occupational therapist in Maryland, who also has a handwriting app and another accessibility app.

The project was a full website rebuild with new e-commerce functionality, all within a responsive design. It took a great deal of time and effort, but the client was ultimately very happy with the finished product. In the process, I was able to sharpen my front-end development skills and learned a lot about handwriting instruction frameworks. There is still a standard that seems to be ubiquitous mainly because it was marketed effectively by the creator. Appy Therapy is, to my untrained eye, a far superior framework that is fighting an uphill battle against an established brand. I hope and believe that my work on this project will expose more children and instructors to an easier way to learn and teach handwriting.

pumpkin

The Great Pumpkin Beer Tasting of 2015

Each autumn, my friend Carl notes and ranks the pumpkin beer he drinks. He invited me to join him this year and so it was that an otherwise quiet Saturday night was spent ingesting an alarming amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and alcohol.

Eleven different beers comprised the rogues gallery, and each was carefully graded from 0 to 5 on appearance, nose, tastiness, finish, and what we called “Platonic Pumpkin.” To infuse the proceedings a whiff of scientific method, my wife agreed to pour these drinks in another room and prevent names, reputations and label art from biasing our ratings.

pumpkins

Given the high degree of subjectivity and sheer quantity of beer, our marks revealed a surprising amount of consistency with three distinct groups emerging.

The Bad
Clear worst of the bunch was the Sam Adams Pumpkin Batch, an odious concoction with soapy overtones and a cumulative score of 11 from a possible 50. The Blue Point Pumpkin Ale (18), Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat (18), and surprisingly the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (19) rounded out the losers.

The Middling
The divisive Southern Tier Pumpkin (23) was denounced by me but championed by Carl, ending up in limbo.  The only non-ale tasted was the Redhook Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter (24), a disappointing effort with trace amounts of pumpkin flavor.  Neither the New Belgium Pumpkick (25), Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale (26), or Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (27) made much of an impression.

The Quaffable
Two beers stood out from the rest: Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale (31) and our winner, Alewerks Pumpkin Ale with 35 out of 50. These finely balanced beers struck the best balance between expression and restraint, offering full pumpkin flavor but remaining drinkable.

I thank Carl for including me in this exercise, but I have vowed never to drink a pumpkin beer again. The cloying aromatics and dreadful puns are simply too much for one sitting, and the time has come to cut the gourd.

 

reiHeader

New REI Logo

Word is that REI updated its logo. Unfortunately, it’s awkward and ugly.

Left: Previous logo. Right: New logo. Courtesy of Brand New.

While the company was attempting to reference a vintage version of their logo, this represents a step backward of another kind. A hodgepodge of angles, rounded edges and line thicknesses means that none of it works.

My approach would have been to clean up the “R” and leave it at that. If the inclusion of “co-op” were a requirement (which I’m sure it was), I might have tried something like this instead:

reiLogoConcept

 

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