September 16, 2020

Premier League Season Preview – 2020/21 – By: Daniel Scarpino

As the Premier League has officially kicked off, we anticipate a riveting season that is filled with
goals, quality, and plenty of new faces around the league. This article provides an outline of
each team and how they ought to shape-up this season.
Arsenal – The Gunners have won the 2 most recent domestic trophies in England. Winners of
the FA Cup and Community Shield, Arsenal is certainly riding a high going into the new Premier
League season. With Mikel Arteta having spent 9 months at the club, we can now see a
concrete philosophy being put in place by the boss, most notably from a defensive point of view.
This season, Arsenal will look to improve their standing from last season with hopes of finishing
in the top 4.
Aston Villa – The nearest of survivals saw Aston Villa stay up on the final day of the Premier
League last season. A well respected Dean Smith has guided Villa to safety and hopefully a
much improved season this time around. The retainment of England international, and club
captain, Jack Grealish, bodes well for Villa. The major concern would be if Grealish decides to
leave during the season, Aston Villa would certainly be on the brink of relegation once again.
Although, a relegation scrap might be on their hands regardless.
Brighton – Brighton saw improvement last season in the quality of their play. They were able to
stand-up, in large part, to bigger clubs in the Premier League. The most notable signing of
Adam Lallana will bolster Brighton in midfield and should add that aspect of fluidity that they are
needing most. A mid-table finish for Brighton is what they hope but, it won’t be easy.
Burnley – Sean Dyche has been able to guide Burnley, consistently, to mid-table finishes
season-after-season. The previous campaign was no different. Burnley, who are accustomed to
a more defensive style of football, were able to gain some pretty impressive results last season
along with several clean sheet performances. This season, the Clarets of Turf Moor, will need to
be more versatile in the attack as teams will make adjustments to the counter attack that they’ve
been so accustom to utilizing.
Chelsea – The busiest team in the summer transfer market has been Chelsea. Not only have
they improved their starting 11, they’ve also significantly added depth to their squad/bench. The
Blues, almost certainly, appear to be the most improved team despite having finished in the top
4 last season. This time around, Chelsea won’t be content with settling for a top 4 position. The
demand will be significantly increased due to the quality of their signings and the money they
have spent. This season, they will need to collect silverware and add at least one trophy to their
cabinet. Anything less than that would be considered a failure.
Crystal Palace – Crystal Palace has been secured as a mid-table team for sometime now. With
only minimal movement in the transfer market this summer, the expectations for Palace, as it
would appear, aren’t incredibly high. Having a relatively formidable attack, this will give
defenders things to be concerned about. Where the problems lie for Crystal Palace, mainly, is in
defensive transition moments. If teams can catch Crystal Palace on the run, it could pose
problems for the mid-table side.
Everton – Carlo Ancelotti has improved the squad of Everton and this has given Evertonian’s
something to cheer about. The most notable signing has been James Rodriguez, a prolific
attacker with experience at the highest level for both club and country. Everton’s defensive
improvements last season, under Ancelotti, are expected to carry out this season. With a much
more versatile attack, Everton are surely set to make a push for the Europa League places, just
outside of the top 4.
Fulham – The promoted side from the Championship has seen somewhat of a yo-yo effect over
the past years as it pertains to promotion/relegation in the Premier League. Having found
themselves back in the Premier League this season following an impressive campaign in the
Championship last season, one word will be on the minds of all Fulham supporters — ‘Survival’.
A success for Fulham this season would be to avoid relegation and have Premier League
football for 2021/22.
Leeds – Marcelo Bielsa’s side had a fantastic run in the Championship this past season. The
winners of England’s second-tier division see themselves coming into the Premier League
having already established, under Bielsa, a quite modern and innovative way of playing football.
Leeds have been knocking at the Premier League door for a while now, and after 16 long years,
the wait is over. Given Bielsa’s style, and given the quality of Leeds, you’d expect a mid-table
Leicester – The Foxes find themselves in a pretty good situation for this season. A solid
starting-11, a decent bench, and Europa League football. Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester team had
themselves a fair finish last season which saw them make vast improvements whilst displaying
some entertaining football. While they looked destined to qualify for the Champions League last
season, perhaps this time around we will see the Foxes make that little ‘extra push’ to get
themselves over the line. If Jamie Vardy and company can produce in big moments, Leicester
City will continue to find themselves amongst the best in the Premier League.
Liverpool – The Premier League champions find themselves in a similar situation this year. The
Reds’ squad looks incredibly similar in comparison to last season with no true, notable changes
in terms of departures. One thing that we can say is that the depth of the Liverpool squad has
not necessarily strengthened nor has it weakened. While the likes of their Premier League rivals
have strengthened their teams, the champions appear to have remained the same. Sometimes,
this goes against a team, especially after winning the season prior. Given the nature of the
Premier League, everyone knows how difficult it is to win it twice in a row, seeing as it has been
done by only so few. Depending on how one might look at it, it could be a case of, ‘If it ain’t
broke, don’t fix it’ or ‘If you stay the same, you’ll get left behind’. Regardless, we can expect to
see Jurgen Klopp’s team right near the top this season.
Manchester City – After having won a difficult court case to stay in the Champions League, the
whole of Manchester City is buzzing. Couple that with an already impeccable squad, there is
plenty for Premier League teams to be worried about. Not just that, Manchester City has not
been shy this summer in terms of spending money. Pep Guardiola has been quite active in the
summer transfer market bringing in players to fill the gaps in his team while adding depth to his
bench. City, a team that were quite ruthless to begin with, are shaping-up to look even better
than they were. Title contention will certainly be on the cards this year as will challenging for the
Champions League, a trophy that continues to be missing from their cabinet.
Manchester United – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has undoubtedly improved his Manchester United
team. Key addition to the team, Bruno Fernandes, has really helped United in all facets of play.
Improvements from Martial, Rashford, Pogba, amongst many others, also helped United clinch
a Champions League spot as well as formidable runs in all domestic competitions last season.
Additions of Donny van de Beek, Joel Pereira, and Dean Henderson will strengthen an already
very good Manchester United team. While many believe United are still a few players away from
being a true title contender, one could argue that they are in a position to make a push now.
United fans certainly aren’t thin on patience as they’ve continued to stand by the club but, one
would deduce that they’d want some silverware soon.
Newcastle – Steve Bruce has been relatively active in the summer transfer market, trying to
desperately improve his Newcastle team. After a sub-par performance last season, 13th place
Newcastle will quite simply aim to improve their standing in the Premier League. Conceding
more than a goal per game while averaging less than a goal per game will not cut it for the fans
at St. James’ Park moving forward. Simple, attainable, and reasonable improvements are
expected to be made this season for Bruce’s side by moving up the table, even if only by a few
Sheffield United – An impressive run for Sheffield United last season saw them grab a 9th place
finish right after being promoted from the Championship. Chris Wilder’s team played a brand of
football that combined defensive solidarity and attacking intent almost to, what appeared as, a
perfect balance (39 goals for, 39 goals against). Sheffield United were able to hang-in with the
best of them last season and produced quite consistent performances. Some key loan deals
amongst short-term signings will likely see the Blades finish mid-table once again for 2020/21.
Southampton – Southampton weren’t shy on goals last year, mainly due to Danny Ings’ breakout
season. The Saints are singing once again, even if only a little bit. Vast improvements
continuing to be made under Ralph Hasenhuttl will allow a rather exciting Southampton side to
continue to showcase their quality. Where they will need to tighten up, if they hope to improve
their 11th place finish from last season, is defensively. The 6th worst goals against record
belongs to Southampton from the previous season and it’s something that they will need to
improve, especially in the games where they match-up against formidable, well-rounded teams.
Tottenham – Jose Mourinho has come into Tottenham and immediately made his personality felt
around the club. High demands mixed with high standards see’s Tottenham making a pursuit in
which they’ve been given slack for years over — Not winning a trophy. Due to Mourinho’s nature
of ‘serial winning’, he will inevitably make this the absolute top priority. Tottenham have not been
shy after last seasons finish in terms of getting rid of players who did not suit the style of the
Spurs’ new bench boss. With key additions to the squad, behind a fit Harry Kane, Tottenham will
aim to finish in the top 4 and collect at least one trophy along the way.
West Brom – Newly promoted West Brom saw themselves have an impressive campaign in the
Championship this past season. After gaining successful promotion, there is no doubt that this
was highly deserved. The run of problems that might be experienced for West Brom is the fact
that the Championship runners-up have a young but, inexperienced squad. A successful season
for West Brom would be to avoid relegation whilst having their players gain quality experience at
the highest level of competition in England.
West Ham – They saved it until late last season but, the Hammers avoided relegation under
David Moyes. Not short on decently popular names at the club, West Ham probably fell below
their standard last season finishing 16th. For this West Ham team, a solidified philosophy of play
is needed at the club and the fans are desperate for it. Along with that, there will need to be
improvements made in the team and in the standings in order for this club to be viewed as a
true threat amongst the Premier League’s best.
Wolves – Nuno’s Wolverhampton side continues to impress after a second successful campaign
in the Premier League. Consistent challengers for the Europa League, Wolves saw themselves
advance deep into all of their competitions last season playing more than 60 games across all
competitions. After retaining some big names at the club, and hoping to hold onto others,
Wolves will continue to make their pursuit of Premier League excellence by finishing in the top
6, so they hope.

June 13, 2020

College and University Athletics Cancelled until December 31st 2020 by Daniel Scarpino

The Ontario University Athletics Association (OUA) & Ontario College Athletics Association (OCAA) have formally announced that they are cancelling all sporting activities until the start of 2021.

That means all fall sports are either cancelled outright or at least postponed. There are several implications for these cancellations, none greater than the health and well being of student-athletes, coaching staffs, and all university/college athletics personnel, of course. That
said, it’s important that we dive into and take a look at the ramifications that these decisions will inevitably cause.

First and foremost, the reality that sports will be suspended at the university & college level until the end of the calendar year is a loose date, to put it best. There’s no real way of knowing if sports will resume in let’s say, January of 2021. It could be longer than that. By longer, you’d hate to be pessimistic but, could we potentially see the end of university & college athletics for the entire 2020-2021 season? For the optimists and hopefuls in the room, we’d hope not; however, we must consider this as being a reality. If so, the financial burden that this puts on schools, athletic departments, and those who are financially compensated as it pertains to athletics could be quite difficult.

Secondly, we must see varsity athletics, in large part, as a brand. Incidentally, brands are there to make money. While we enjoy the spectacle of the sports that are offered at the varsity level, it is because of the quality that these brands present that allow them to be profitable. Amongst top
quality athletes, well revered coaches, and impeccable facilities, what’s generated at the varsity level for the OUA and OCAA is something much bigger. In fact, the names alone are big enough to be widely recognized at the national level. When something that we are so accustomed to
seeing on a yearly basis is now put on pause, indefinitely, it really sets us back. Think about the set-back that it will impose on various colleges and universities, if nothing else and even if only temporary.

Third, we cannot ignore the burden that this will place on recruitment. Whilst it would be illogical to put this above the general health of anyone in our nation, all workplaces are facing the dire question of, ‘What happens next?’. When it comes to athletics, recruitment is one of the staples
for which the organization/brand flourishes. Having the right people involved is what makes ‘sport’ the spectacle that it is. Now, because coaches are not going to have those face-to-face interactions that they desire, recruitment is going to shift to technology. In large part, coaches
will have to rely heavily on video and perhaps phone calls/Skype. This, almost entirely, will be different from the typical recruiting trail that coaching staffs are used to. The motto of ‘Pound the Pavement’ has been dismantled, really. The cancellation of sports is going to change the face of
recruiting, at least for one year/season. Does that throw teams for a loop? In fact, it does. Maybe not so much for larger, dominant programs but, for schools who fall into the category of a ‘rebuild’ or are just a smaller program altogether, this is worrisome. Not to mention, coaches who have just come in this year or in the past year or two, this has to be even more troubling than ‘starting from square one’. We largely focus on bigger programs because, well, those are the ones who are representing brands such as the OUA or OCAA at the end of their seasons but, it’s the smaller programs that also must be accounted for as being the ‘parts’ that make up the ‘sum’.

Furthermore, we see a major consideration of fitting in various seasons in the spring. However, we would be remiss to not mention the implications that come along with that, although it sounds good on the surface. There are a couple of issues that could evolve if fall sports take place in the spring. First, we could potentially see an overlap of indoor sports finishing and
outdoor sports starting. Second, weather is going to be an obvious point of conflict as we have no real way of knowing what the months of March & April will hold. Third, keeping students at the university or college that they attend in order to complete the seasons would almost 100%
go until May. What arises from that is the obvious issue of students returning home once the semester is complete. Fourth, if all classes (for both terms) are moved to online, students who play sports may not even be in the same city that they go to school (for example, a student who
lives in Sudbury taking online classes at Guelph would not necessarily be subject to being in the city that they are enrolled in for college/university). Fifth, the idea surrounding a condensed season would almost be certain in order to fit in the necessary championships. The problem that arises with this is that the standings won’t be a true reflection of who the best team is given the fact that not all the necessary/regular games would have been played. Finally, the idea of crowning a national champion might be null and void if all conferences are not on the same page. Given the window/time frame to coordinate this, it will be more difficult than it will be

There is an obvious issue with playing eligibility. If varsity sports do not happen whatsoever, players risk losing an entire year of their playing eligibility, depending on how the OUA & OCAA warrant the term ‘eligibility’. This could potentially cause uproar amongst athletes and coaches.
Those who are in their graduation year wouldn’t have the chance to fulfill their final year of eligibility. Players returning for a 5th year could have otherwise been seeking work or a graduate studies/masters studies program. And, all other athletes in years 1-3 would simply be robbed of
an entire season. All of these issues almost tip on the side of ‘ethics’. The question would become, ‘How can we ensure that varsity athletes aren’t deprived of playing eligibility given that the decision to cancel the season is beyond their control?’. If anything, this issue needs to be rectified and a solution must be presented before school commences in September so that
athletes can decide if they will defer the year in order to save their eligibility for when sports resume.

One thing that might be slightly under looked are potential leave of absences. This would be from coaches and various athletic personnel. Especially for those who are compensated entirely by their institution, the point that prefaced this article of ‘implications’ would ultimately turn
financial, and not in a particularly positive way. If staff are furloughed, that’s one thing. If staff are let go, that’s another. If nothing can be managed/worked out, there will be a lot of unhappy people who will take leave of absences or potentially worse, drop out and perhaps not return. The academic component for athletes is a matter that will certainly will be placed in the highest regard by academic institutions. If nothing is resolved quickly by governing bodies as it pertains to sports, the academic side of things will ensure that students remain on track to fulfill their requirements for their respective degrees. Again, what we could see, which directly ties in with academics, is student-athletes deferring the year and returning for the fall 2021 season if nothing is worked out on the sporting side.

The worst possible scenario is that those who need the announcements most will be left in the dark. That worst possible scenario is not one that we expect but, it’s still a worry nonetheless.
Granted, what isn’t a worry in these times? We have never really lived in a moment where we didn’t know what was going to happen next. It seems that the unexpected is revolving and coming full-circle on an almost weekly basis. What cannot happen is someone or something
overstepping various boundaries which would jeopardize the people involved in varsity athletics. These amazing organizations that we know as the OUA and OCAA will do a remarkable job in ensuring that things are monitored closely and that everyone involved are well taken care of.
What we all hope, beyond the fact that we wish to see sports at the varsity level soon, is that our questions get answered quickly and professionally. In these times, our thoughts go out to all involved in the OUA and OCAA who are dealing with difficult decisions that are, in this moment, unparalleled and unprecedented. These are the scenarios, the situations, and the realities that we, as the wider sporting community, must all consider. ‘When’ will become the base of our inquiries for the foreseeable future.

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