It might surprise you to hear this, but the NFL is not the most popular league in the world. Neither is the NBA. In fact, the world’s most popular league is not enjoyed by a majority of fans in the USA.
But it’s getting there.
The English Premier League, or EPL, is poised to become the dominant global sports attraction of the 21st century. Statisticians are fascinated with the league’s rise, charting an increase in overall revenue from around 13 billion in 2007 to over 25 billion dollars as of 2017. The EPL’s TV deals are rivaled only by the NFL. On many continents the league has no equal.
Do more Americans place bets on the Premier League than the MLS, Liga MX, and NCAA soccer combined? You would have to talk to a sportsbook boss to know. But the fact that the question would be asked is a testament to the EPL’s booming popularity.
Unlike the NFL or the NBA, the Premier League does not house 95% of the best available talent in its chosen sport. Comparable rosters exist at Spanish clubs like Real Madrid, Italian sides like Juventus, and so on. But the EPL has an incomparable tradition, an attractive competitive format, and dozens of the most colorful and revered superstars.
Gambling is part of the English sports tradition and is not as frowned upon by the Queen or Parliament as it is by many other governments. Online sportsbooks eagerly gather action on matches like Manchester United vs Tottenham, or Manchester City (the defending EPL champs) vs Chelsea.
Soccer is a pretty big deal in Manchester. But it’s easy to place a bet on the Red Devils even if you’re continents away. Here’s a primer on getting started wagering on the English Premier League.
The Lingo of Soccer
Before you can understand soccer betting, you have to understand the game.
Most of us have a grasp of the rules. 11 players a side. Players try to score on a goalkeeper, aren’t allowed to touch the ball with their hands (or arms), and must touch the ball before the opposing player on any tackle attempt, or else give up a free kick and possibly a yellow card (warning), a red card (you’re out) or a penalty kick (a point-blank, uncontested, and usually successful shot on goal). Matches are 90 minutes plus time added to compensate for injuries and stoppages, and the clock never stops except at half.
Positions include backline (defense), midfield (think linebacker on defense and point guard on offense), forward, winger, and – when the manager puts a lone goal-hunting wolf at the very front of the formation – striker. In general, the more backliners and midfielders used in a formation, the more conservative and cautious it is.
But what must really turn off a lot of potential American fans (and casino players) is the language of soccer, which seems almost gratuitously altered to frustrate readers trying to learn about The Beautiful Game. Reading a Premier League story out of England can feel like translating a foreign language.
Here’s a few tips on deciphering the lingo.
Nobody refers to “games” in soccer, it would be too macho and American sounding. A soccer “game” is always referred to as a match (easy enough) or a fixture (no idea, but that’s what they call ‘em).
At least the word “soccer” remains prevalent enough around the world that even some English-bred commentators find themselves using it. So it’s OK to say “soccer match” as opposed to “football fixture.”
Fans are also not called fans, usually. Instead, they’re called supporters. When players play in a match, it’s called an “appearance,” or an “app.” Not an app on your Android, though there’s a lot of Android apps you can track human apps with.
The sport goes out of its way to treat its goalkeepers like regular players. Goalkeepers can score goals, but it’s extremely rare. One of the weirdest statistical quirks in soccer is that Wiki entries and roster lists will often print keeper-stats with the GK, their number of matches played-in, their number of goals scored in those matches, and that’s it. Tell us something we don’t know! It’s usually zeroes across the board, as you might imagine. The kid at your nearby high school probably has the same stat line as Hope Solo.
It’s not a field, it’s not a gridiron, it’s not a park. Soccer is played on a “pitch,” which takes a little practice for yanks used to talking about baseball. Some pitches are sea-level and indoors, but Denver University’s pitch is high and outside.
Soccer “teams” are usually referred-to in the abstract, such as “Belgium National Team” or “United States Women’s National Team” (USWNT). On the pitch, teams are referred to as “sides” or “squads.” In the EPL or another professional club league, “club” works too.
English Premier League clubs have nicknames, but the nicknames are not part of the official brand. Manchester United’s squad is known as the “Red Devils,” but a scoreboard won’t read “Manchester United Red Devils 2, Arsenal 0.” It will simply say Manchester United or Manchester United F.C., for “football club.”
The Premier League’s Format
At first glance the EPL’s competitive structure seems almost too simple and logical to exist in the sports world.
There are 20 Premier League clubs who participate in the season, which begins in late summer and winds up in spring. 3 points are allotted in the standings for a win, and 1 point for a draw. Everybody plays everybody else twice, usually between Fridays and Mondays. Each weekend is called “Matchday 1” or “Matchday 10” or “Matchday 38.” The team with the most points at the end of 38 matches is the league champion. How easy is that!
But the general makeup of the EPL is still more homogenous to European club sports than anything state-side fans are familiar with. The clubs that play in the Premier League are not guaranteed to play in it the following season, as the bottom trio of clubs in the final standings are relegated out while others are promoted. There are hundreds, even thousands of “associated” football clubs in a hierarchy of leagues below the EPL, the best of which strive for promotion to the top league.
If Roger Goodell kicked the New Orleans Saints out of the National Football League, there likely wouldn’t be a New Orleans Saints the following season. If Manchester United is relegated out of the Premier League, it remains Manchester United and can still play against EPL or other top European clubs in exhibitions. The club simply cannot take part in the Premier League race that season, or until it is promoted back into the top 20.
The FA Cup
The coolest part of the setup is that the league allows its clubs to take part in the Football Association Cup, or F.A. Cup, which runs concurrently to the Premier League schedule and holds its final after the EPL’s final Matchday in May.
The F.A. Cup is the oldest soccer championship in the world. But that’s not the best part. Within certain restrictions, every professional club in England is welcome to compete in the gigantic bracket. In 2011-12, over 700 clubs competed.
As Bob Newhart would put it, that’s a hell of a lot of clubs, Mr. Doubleday.
Imagine that the World Series was contested by a pair of surviving ballclubs out of hundreds of Minor League, semi-pro and American Legion teams, all having competed in the same bracket as the Texas Rangers. Or imagine the East Coast Hockey League sending a team to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Yes, the clubs below Premier League level have a hard time measuring-up to the big boys like Leicester City and Newcastle United. But as with March Madness, the allure of a small-time outfit even sniffing the final round is enough to bring supporters to a fever pitch. Wigan Athletic, a 2nd-tier English club which does not currently compete in the EPL, beat Manchester City to win the 2013 F.A. Cup final in a match analysts called the greatest upset in 25 years of English football.
Betting Odds on the EPL
Premier League betting odds are standardized (thankfully) with FIFA betting and most other soccer markets around the world.
Soccer moneylines take a little getting used to, since there is always the possibility if a 90+ minute draw. So instead of a moneyline being a choice of 2 potential winners, as it is in head-to-head American football, basketball, baseball, and tennis, an EPL moneyline will offer % payoff on any of 3 potential winning bets – favorite win, underdog win, or draw.
Goal spreads are similar to point spreads or run lines, pitting the clubs against each other with the underdog spotted a certain number. If a goal spread is (2 ½), the underdogs must win the match or lose by 2 goals or less, or a wager on the underdog loses.
Total-goals bets also fall under the same “Over/Under” format as totals bets in baseball, hockey and lacrosse.
Some sportsbooks like to offer “Asian Handicap” odds on soccer, a system of multiple, fractional lines in the same market (such as an O/U of “2 ½ and 3”) that offer split-payoffs and partial wins on close results. Click here to read more about Asian Handicap lines.
Popular prop bets on the EPL include wagers on the leading goal-scorer of the season (known as the Golden Boot), club win-totals, and final placement of squads in the standings. Individual match props also include markets like “Chelsea to lead after 30,” which pays off if the Blues are leading after the first 2/3rds of the opening 45-minute half.
Premier League Betting Strategy and Sportsbooks
Popular tactics for betting successfully on the EPL are often similar to the principles handicappers follow in picking state-side winners. Betting against the public is never more effective than when applied to the most popular league on the planet.
However, there are a couple of strategies more specific to soccer. Old-time handicappers recommend “laying” favorites on the road. If your sportsbook allows for laying, or crossing-off 1 of 3 moneylines (so that either of the other 2 is a winner), try betting against a few marquee clubs in road fixtures. Chances are the public’s rabid support of top EPL clubs will have driven the squad’s moneyline shorter than it ought to be…and allow for a nice payoff on the “long-shot” lay.
Pretty much every major sportsbook open to American gamblers is offering Premier League betting markets. Bovada and other big-budget books even offer extensive lines on the tiers of English soccer below the EPL.
If you’re a fan of Asian Handicaps, look up BetOnline or Sportsbetting.ag. They’re so crazy about putting Asian Handicaps on the EPL, you’d almost think the league was in China.
20 Current Premier League Clubs: History and Superstars
Here’s a quick look at all 20 clubs competing in 2018-19, from historical background, to managers (coaches), to notes on the best and brightest players.
A storied club from London, Arsenal has won record-setting numbers of championships in more than 100 years of top-level English football competition. The club has won 13 League titles and an equal number of FA Cups. The last time Arsenal was relegated? 1913.
Arsenal finished 5th in last season’s final EPL standings, or “table,” but is dealing with a goalkeepers controversy as pricey signing Bernd Leno has given way to veteran Petr Čech in early-season matches. Leno spent the previous 7 seasons with Bayer Leverkusen, and has 6 appearances in goal for the Germany national team. He’ll make his Premier League debut in ’18…at least as soon as manager Unai Emery lets it happen.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is an exciting Gabonese striker who made his debut for the club in February ‘18. He had 10 goals and 4 assists in 13 appearances for the club.
Mesut Özil is a German attacking midfielder who joined Arsenal in 2013. In the 2014 World Cup, he scored the game-winning goal in Nationalelf’s 2-1 Round of 16 victory over Algeria in the 119th minute.
Arsenal plays in Emirates Stadium and its squads are nicknamed The Gunners.
Bournemouth is a recent success story, winning promotion to the Premier League in 2015 for the first time in its history.
Asmir Begović is the club’s goalkeeper, a Bosnian professional who joined the club for the 2017-2018 season after playing for Chelsea. He helped lead Bosnia & Herzegovina to the 2014 World Cup, the country’s first major FIFA tournament.
Joshua King is another of the member of “The Cherries” who has achieved FIFA acclaim, scoring 12 goals for the Norway National Team. But the hero of the club is Callum Wilson, an English striker who joined the club for 2014-15 and led the team with 20 goals to help Bournemouth achieve promotion to the EPL.
Brighton & Hove Albion
The “Seagulls” were founded in 1901 and reached the FA Cup final against Manchester United in 1983, but a dark era in the 90s nearly knocked them out of existence. One grand resurrection later and the club is a proud EPL representative in 2018 after qualifying last season.
Seagull GK Mathew Ryan visited the World Cup in Russia as part of the Australia National Team. Teammate Alireza Jahanbakhsh has him one better – the Iranian winger and attacking midfielder was member of Iran’s squad at the 2018 World Cup and played in all three of their group stage matches.
Burnley won promotion in 2016, and has managed to stay at the top level despite having been a “bubble” club earlier in the decade. However, the club has a storied history of contention in the FA Cup and in league play long before the EPL came into existence in the early 1990s.
Stars of “The Clarets,” who finished a noble 7th in the Premier League table after 38 matches in 2017-18, include excellent striker Chris Wood of New Zealand, midfielder Jack Cork, and veteran winger Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson.
Cardiff City F.C.
Another club that has been in and out of the EPL lately is Cardiff City, which will try to avoid relegation from the Premier League in 2018-19.
The Bluebirds have the honor of being the only squad from outside England to compete in the Premier League, as the organization is based out of Wales.
Sean Morrison is an English center back who captains the squad. Other key players include Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa, each on “loan” – best described as a temporary trade for training purposes and future considerations – from AFC Bournemouth and Spanish club Real Betis respectively.
Chelsea’s 5th-place Premier League finish in 2017-18 was a disappointment, considering that the club has won 14 FA Cup and top-level League titles combined.
Manager Maurizio Sarri leads a 2018-19 squad that features many international superstars. Eden Hazard is one of the biggest, a powerful Belgian left winger who has been with the squad since 2012. In the 2018 World Cup, he earned the Silver Ball as the 2nd-best player in the tournament.
N’Golo Kanté is a French defensive midfielder who joined the club in July 2016. He started for France in the 2018 World Cup Final in their 4-2 victory over Croatia. Another name to watch is Olivier Giroud, a recent transfer who scored 73 goals in 180 appearances for Arsenal.
Crystal Palace is a tough, gritty Premier League squad with a proud history. What the “Eagles” lack in star power, they make up for with a crafty “zonal” defense and veteran savvy.
Wayne Hennessey is a Welsh goalie who joined the club in 2014. He has made 76 appearances for the Wales national team. Luka Milivojević is an exciting Serbian midfielder who scored 10 goals in 36 appearances for the club in 2017-2018, while newcomer Max Meyer looked to reinforce the midfield after years competing elsewhere in Europe.
You’ll have a hard time finding a Premier League club with a richer history than Everton, formed in 1878 and having competed at the top level of English football for a record 114 years.
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is a bona fide World Cup star who made his debut with the club in the 2017-2018 season. He represented England in the 2018 World Cup and his clean sheet performance against Sweden helped England advance to their first semi-final since 1990.
Gylfi Sigurðsson is a terrific attacking midfielder who joined the club in August 2017, but supporters are also excited about Cenk Tosun, a Turkish striker who scored 5 goals in 14 appearances for the “Toffees” last season.
The Cottagers are the oldest established football club from London to play in the modern-day Premier League. Though the squad has struggled to remain in the top division and had to regain its spot for 2018-19, manager Slaviša Jokanović doesn’t hold his players back, using a 4-3-3 formation with plenty of attacking potential.
Ryan Sessegnon is on track to become one of Fulham’s longest-tenured athletes of the past few decades, an English left back who has been with the organization since 2008. He has scored 20 goals in 71 appearances for the first team. Teammate Tom Cairney has scored 25 goals from midfield for the Cottagers and could also be anchored-in for the long term.
The Terriers finished a sour 16th out of 20 clubs in 2017-18 but can boast a proud history of having once won 3 top-level English league football titles in a row. Talented goalkeeper Jonas Lössl leads an aggressive squad that never backs down even when overmatched.
Steve Mounié is a Beninese striker who joined the club in August 2017. He scored 7 goals in 28 appearances for the club during the 2017-2018 season. Laurent Depoitre of Belgium has also impressed on the attack. Center back Terence Kongolo was a member of the 2014 Netherlands World Cup squad which claimed the bronze medals.
Manager Claude Puel coaches a counter-attacking style that Leicester City supporters have grown to appreciate, but it was former skipper Craig Shakespeare who took the underdog “Foxes” to an unlikely Premier League championship in 2015-16.
Current stars on the squad include Kasper Schmeichel, who was brilliant for Denmark in the 2018 World Cup. Harry Maguire is another popular name, an English center back who debuted with the club the 2017-2018 season and is a proud member of the Three Lions.
Jamie Vardy is an English striker who has been with the club since 2012. He scored 20 goals in 37 appearances during the 2017-2018 season.
Some Premier League clubs just move the needle all around the world. Liverpool is a shining example, a team in a city known for “underground” culture which happens to house some of the biggest mainstream soccer stars on the planet. Liverpool has played at the storied Anfield pitch since the late 19th century and has won 7 FA Cups in that time.
International heroes are everywhere you look. Goalkeeper Alisson is one of the most respected professionals from Brazil at age 25. He was selected as a member of the 2017-2018 UEFA Champions League Squad of the Season after recording 22 clean sheets.
Mohamed Salah was the EPL’s Golden Boot winner after scoring an amazing 32 goals in 36 matches during the 2017-18. His compadre in the attacking half is Sadio Mané, a Senegalese winger who scored 23 goals in his first 2 seasons with Liverpool.
The Reds are also counting on Roberto Firmino, a versatile player who scored Brazil’s 2nd goal in a 2-0 knockout stage win in Russia.
Manchester City’s “Sky Blues” are the defending English Premier League champions. Charismatic manager Pep Guardiola is a master tactician who leads some of the finest talent in the EPL.
Ederson is a Brazilian keeper who rivals Alisson in reputation and skill. The Brazilian goalkeeper has broken the Guinness World Record for longest drop-kick at 75.3 meters (82 yards).
Kevin De Bruyne is a Belgian attacking midfielder who enters his 4th season with the squad. In the 2018 World Cup for Belgium, he scored the 2nd goal of the match in their 2-1 quarterfinal victory against Brazil and he was named Man of the Match.
German left winger Leroy Sané was not named to the Nationalelf squad in Russia, a move that angered supporters as the youngster was named PFA Young Player of the Year after recording 10 goals and 15 assists in the 2017-2018 season.
It can be argued that Manchester United, also known as Manchester U. or simply United, is the most recognizable brand in club soccer. The Red Devils play at historic Old Trafford and have won more titles than any English club, including a dozen FA Cups.
United manager José Mourinho employs a unique 2-2-4-2 formation. He coached Manchester United to the 2016-2017 UEFA Europa League Championship and a runner-up finish in the EPL last season.
The club’s Spanish goalie David de Gea led the Premier League in 2017-2018 with 18 clean sheets to win the Premier League Golden Glove.
Paul Pogba is a French central midfielder who made his return to the club during the 2016-2017 season. He scored for France in the 2018 World Cup final to extend their lead to 3-1 in their 4-2 victory against Croatia.
Romelu Lukaku is a Belgian striker who made his United debut on August 8th, 2017 in the UEFA Super Cup. He won the Bronze Boot Award in the 2018 World Cup, scoring 4 goals and adding an assist.
The Magpies are one of the most consistent clubs in English soccer history, competing in the Premier League for all but 3 years of the EPL’s existence and winning 6 FA Cups throughout the organization’s lifespan. Manager Rafael Benítez is the only skipper in history to win the UEFA Europa League, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Champions League, and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Look out for Spanish striker Ayoze Pérez, who enters his 5th season with the club. He has scored 30 goals in 142 appearances from 2014-2018.
Known as The Saints, the men of Southampton F.C. are survivors, hanging on with a 2017-18 finish of 17th in the Premier League. The club avoided relegation by a whisker, but has managed to stay in the EPL every season since 2012.
Fraser Forster is a tongue twister, and also a fine English goalie who enters his 5th season with the club. But look on the other side of the pitch for Charlie Austin, an Englishman who joined the squad in January 2016. He scored 7 goals in 24 appearances in 2017-2018.
Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris leads 136-year-old Tottenham into a hopeful 2018-19 campaign after winning a gold medal with France in the World Cup.
But it’s the squad’s high-pressing style of attack that helps make the “Spurs” a fan favorite across Europe and beyond.
The club’s top superstar is Harry Kane, an English striker who has been with the club since 2009. He won the Golden Boot for most goals scored at the ’18 World Cup. Midfielder Dele Alli was Kane’s teammate in Russia.
Christian Eriksen is a Danish attacking midfielder who has been with the squad since August of 2013. He has scored 41 goals in 171 appearances with the club. On the backline, defender Jan Vertonghen is as world-class as it gets.
Watford has been around over 100 years, and has acquired a lot of nicknames. The Hornets, The Golden Boys, and Yellow Army to name just a few. But one thing the club does not have is a Premier League title, or even a finish in the top half of the field.
Keeper Ben Foster has rejoined the club hoping to spur greater success this season, having made 172 appearances with West Bromwich Albion.
Troy Deeney is an English striker who captains the squad. He has scored 105 goals in 309 appearances for the club from 2010-2018.
West Ham United
The 3-time FA Cup winner West Ham has that name that makes fans hungry at a glance. But the squad is famished for improvement after finishing 13th in the EPL last season.
There won’t be much backing down. Manuel Pellegrini is an attack-minded skipper who coached Manchester City to a Premier League title in 2013-2014.
Look out for Adrián (no Rocky jokes, please), a Spanish goalie who enters his 6th season with the club. Javier Hernández is an exciting Mexican striker, and Andriy Yarmolenko is another talented forward who debuts in 2018-19.
Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C.
Having qualified for the Premier League in 2018, Wolverhampton is a lovable underdog. But in this case, so lovable that there are special rules that apply to the club. The “Wanderers” is the only mascot-style nickname allowed on official scoreboards. Google often refers to Wolverhampton by its other nickname, “Wolves.”
There’s enough talent on board for the club to remain in the EPL with solid performances. Rui Patrício is a veteran goalkeeper who recorded a clean sheet for Portugal against France in the 2016 Euro Cup Final. Raúl Jiménez is a strong Mexican player, and Diogo Jota is a fine attacker from the midfield.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.