By Josh Harris.
The Barclays Premier League (BPL, and sometimes referred to as the EPL – English Premier League – outside of the United Kingdom) launched in 1992, and quickly became the world’s most popular sports league. Consisting of 20 teams, each club plays their opponents twice in a season, one match home and the other one away, equaling 38 matches during the course of the entire season that runs from August through May. Unlike many other European club leagues, the Premier League has no winter break and continues every week throughout the season except when there’s a FIFA-mandated international break when many players from the Premier League will play for their respective countries in international games such as friendlies or qualification games for the World Cup or European Championship, and other regional competitions.
The main attractions of the Premier League are the vast number of world-class players, the different soccer styles among most teams, and the often noisy crowds up and down England and Wales. Many of the Premier League games feature unpredictable outcomes, where it’s often very difficult to predict where the clubs will finish in the standings (aka league table), as opposed to other leagues such as Spain where the top two teams (Barcelona and Real Madrid) always seem to win every week.
The Premier League teams that finish in the bottom three of the standings each season are relegated to the second tier of English soccer, known as the Championship. The top four teams qualify for the UEFA Champions League, which is the most high-profile club soccer tournament in the world featuring the best teams from Europe competing against each other from the group stages (in September) through to the final in May.
The top four teams qualify for the Champions League, although the fourth placed team must compete in the Champions League play-off (beginning in August) to qualify for the group stage. The fifth-placed team in the Premier League automatically qualifies for the UEFA Europa League, and the sixth and seventh-placed teams can also qualify, depending on the winners and runners-up of the two domestic competitions (FA Cup and League Cup); if the winner of the FA Cup qualifies for the Champions League, then that place will go to the runner-up, and if the runner-up is also already qualified, then that place will go to the next-best placed finisher in the Premier League. If the winner of the League Cup has already qualified, that place goes to the next-best placed team in the league.
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A further place in the UEFA Europa League is also available via the Fair Play initiative. If the Premier League has one of the three highest Fair Play rankings in Europe (based on how few yellow cards or red cards each team receives, as well as the behavior of its supporters), the highest ranked team in the Premier League Fair Play standings that has not already qualified for Europe will automatically qualify for the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round (that typically begins in July).
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