Premier League Beginners Guide: How It Works

Soccer Academy: 102

The English Premier League is the highest tier of English soccer and the most popular soccer league in the world. Many of the best soccer teams and players in the world play in this league, and it is one of the most competitive and exciting sports league in the world.


Although soccer in England has been played since the foundation of the Football League in 1888, the Premier League has only been around since 1992, when the First Division broke away from the Football League to become the Premier League. The Football League Second Division, Third Division, and Fourth Division then evolved into the EFL Championship, League One, and League Two.

The breakaway of the top flight was originally orchestrated by a few owners of the bigger clubs in the league. These owners included David Dein of Arsenal, Martin Edwards of Manchester United, Irving Scholar of Tottenham, Noel White of Liverpool, and Philip Carter of Everton. The goal of the bigger clubs was to gain more autonomy in order to grow the commercial and business aspects of their teams.

A huge influence on the development of the Premier League was the NFL. The Premier League borrowed plenty of ideas from the NFL in order to commercialize the sport, ranging from adding jumbotrons in stadiums to printing players’ names on the backs of jerseys. The most important factor in the international success of the Premier League, however, has undoubtedly been television.

The ability to broadcast the Premier League across the world has been instrumental to its success, as the Premier League is now broadcast to 212 territories, 642 million homes, and over 4.5 billion fans, making it the most-watched sports league in the world. This has allowed soccer in England to thrive and become even more competitive and entertaining.

Including this season, only seven teams have won the Premier League title (1992-present), although 24 teams in total have won the English top flight. The seven teams that have won the Premier League at least once are Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Leicester City, and Blackburn Rovers. Liverpool, Leicester, and Blackburn have only won the title once, while Arsenal has three titles, Man City has four titles, and Chelsea has five titles. Manchester United has won a remarkable 13 Premier League titles, all of which were won under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the greatest soccer managers of all time. Since the inception of the English soccer league in 1888, only three teams have won ten or more top-flight titles. These teams are Arsenal with 13 titles, Liverpool with 19 titles, and Manchester United with 20 titles. These three teams are historically the most successful teams in England. Some other historically or presently successful teams are Everton with nine titles, Aston Villa with seven titles, Chelsea with six titles, Manchester City with six titles, and Sunderland with six titles.


There are 20 teams in the Premier League each season. These are the teams that were in the league this past season (2019-2020):

Aston Villa
Brighton & Hove Albion
Crystal Palace
Leicester City
Manchester City
Manchester United
Newcastle United
Norwich City
Sheffield United
Tottenham Hotspur
West Ham
Wolverhampton Wanderers

“Big Six”

The most well-known teams in the Premier League, internationally at least, are known as the “Big Six.” The “Big Six” include Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur. These teams tend to finish at the top of the table and have brought fans, money, and success to the league, thus increasing the popularity of the league worldwide. While these teams believe they should earn a larger proportion of the Premier League’s revenue (all 20 teams receive an equal share and have since the league’s inception in 1992), they do not officially or contractually stand out from the rest of the 14 teams in the league.

While the influence of the “Big Six” is undeniable, their impenetrable success in the league has been successfully penetrated in recent years. Everton’s perennial pressure, as well as Leicester’s and Wolves’ recent rises to glory, could threaten the “Big Six” and seek to expand it. In fact, the “Big Six” used to be the “Top Four” before Manchester City and Tottenham came along.


The Premier League starts in August and ends in May. Each team plays 38 games in a season, and games are usually on weekends. In England, Premier League matches take place between the afternoon and the early evening. The five-hour time difference, however, means matches are on anytime from 4:30 in the morning (West Coast) to 12:30 in the afternoon (East Coast).

Some matches occur during the week, however. In this case, there will usually be only one weekday match on either a Friday or a Monday. However, in December, matches are more frequent and often occur midweek. Due to the sporadic schedule in December, the holiday season is oftentimes considered the most difficult period in the Premier League season, and more often than not, teams at the top of the league after December go onto win the title.

Points System

The Premier League, like all soccer leagues, utilizes the points system for determining the winner of the league each season. Each team plays every other team twice, home and away, and gets a certain number of points depending on the outcome of a match. If a team wins, it gets three points. If a team loses, it gets no points. And if the teams tie, or draw, each team gets one point. Points are accumulated throughout the season and ultimately determine where each team finishes in the table.

Unlike many popular American sports, the Premier League, along with most other soccer leagues, does not have playoffs at the end of the season. Instead, the winner of the league is simply whichever team has the most points and thus is at the top of the table at the end of the season. Therefore, the Premier League champion is not the most in-form team by the time a playoff tournament starts but rather the team that has been most consistent over the course of the 38-game season. This also means that the Premier League title can be won before the season ends. If it becomes impossible for a team to accumulate enough points to catch the team in first, the team in first clinches the title.


The top spot is not the only significant rank in the table, however. The top four teams in the table (1st-4th place) at the end of the season automatically qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the following season. The Champions League showcases the most elite teams in Europe every year, and qualifying for the tournament is both a prestigious and financially rewarding accomplishment.

The next team in the table (5th) and oftentimes the following two teams as well (6th-7th) qualify for the UEFA Europa League, another prestigious European competition and the stepping stone to the Champions League. Whether or not the 6th and 7th-placed teams qualify for the Europa League qualifying round depends on the results of the English cup competitions.

The last places of significance in the table are the bottom three spots. In fact, the bottom three spots are as important as, if not more important than, the top four spots. The bottom three places constitute the relegation zone, and Premier League teams that aren’t in contention for a Europa or Champions League qualification spot must avoid finishing in this zone at all costs.

Promotion & Relegation

The system of relegation and promotion may be the most identifiable part of how soccer leagues are organized. Relegation and promotion signify the mobility of teams between different tiers. For this to work, every soccer league in one country or region must be interconnected.

In the Premier League, the bottom three teams, or the three teams with the least amount of total points, are relegated to the English second tier at the end of the year. This tier is called the English Football League Championship, or the EFL Championship. It is the highest of the three tiers in the EFL and is the league right below the Premier League. Below the Championship, there is the EFL League One and then the EFL League Two. All of these leagues, including even more tiers of English soccer below that, are connected and thus allowed for teams to be promoted to the next tier or relegated to the one below.

The Premier League, thus, relegates three teams at the end of every season, and the EFL Championship promotes three teams at the end of every season. Therefore, the teams in the Premier League are never the same two years in a row.

This system allows for small clubs to dream and fight to win promotion after promotion until they finally reach the Premier League, the best soccer league in the world.

Promotion and relegation also have huge financial implications on teams, as teams in the Premier League receive much more revenue due to the Premier League’s international popularity, viewership, and commercial success. Therefore, Premier League teams desperately avoid ending the season in the relegation zone, and Championship teams fight indefatigably to win promotion to the highest tier of English soccer.

Level on Points

Due to the use of points to determine where teams are placed in a table, there must be a way to rank teams that have the same amount of points. The most common ways of determining which team will be higher than the other are by using goal difference (total goals scored – total goals conceded), the number of goals scored, and the head-to-head record between the teams. While different leagues prioritize these determinants differently, the Premier League takes into account goal difference first. Therefore, if two or more teams are level on points, the team with the higher goal difference takes the higher spot in the table. If the goal difference is the same as well, the team that has scored more goals takes the higher spot. If the number of goals scored is equal as well, the teams occupy the same position in the table at the end of the season.

However, when the title, European qualification, or relegation is at stake, the Premier League takes into account which team earned more points in the two teams’ head-to-head matches. If the number of points earned in head-to-head matches is still the same (if each team won one of their two head-to-head matches or if the teams tied in both games), the higher spot goes to the team with more away goals in the head-to-head matches. Finally, if the position of the teams is still unable to be decided, the teams will compete in a playoff match at a neutral venue. Prior to this year, the Premier League did not consider head-to-head matches but rather jumped straight to a neutral playoff match.

Cup Competitions

Although separate from the Premier League, the two domestic competitions that Premier League clubs partake in during the season are important when it comes to understanding what a Premier League team’s season looks like.

The EFL Cup, also known as the League Cup or a name related to the competition’s sponsor (currently the Carabao Cup) is open to all 92 teams in the top four English tiers (League Two, League One, Championship, and Premier League). The EFL Cup is divided into seven rounds, all but one of which are made up of single-elimination matches. The semifinal round is the only two-legged tie in the competition. If any match in a round before the semifinal round ends in a draw, there will be a replay. If the replay ends in a draw, the teams go into a penalty shootout. Penalty shootouts are also utilized in the semifinals, so if the two teams are level on goals on aggregate after the second leg of the semifinal, the teams go into a penalty shootout. The only round that uses extra time is the final, and a penalty shootout is only necessary if the two teams are still level at the end of extra time. The first round of matches starts in August, and the final takes place in late February or early March.

The other cup competition that Premier League teams compete in is the FA Cup. Every soccer team in England competes in this competition, and therefore, it is considered the most prestigious English cup competition. The non-EPL and non-EFL teams begin competing in August and continue through October to determine which 32 clubs make it to the First Round Proper in November, where they then join the 48 teams from the EFL League One and League Two. The 40 winners of the First Round then play each other in the Second Round Proper in December. The 20 Premier League teams, along with the 24 teams from the EFL Championship, finally join the fray in early January in the Third Round Proper. Half of those 64 teams exit before the Fourth Round Proper and another half of those get eliminated before the Fifth Round Proper. With 16 teams left, the quarterfinals then take place in March before the semifinal round in April. The final of the FA Cup is played in May.

The winner of the EFL Cup and the FA Cup both qualify for the UEFA Europa League. If the winner of either of these tournaments has already qualified for Europe (by finishing 1st-5th in the Premier League), the next spot in the Premier League table qualifies instead. This is why the 6th and 7th-placed teams in the Premier League table often qualify for the Europa League.

So, Why is English Soccer So Popular?

It’s pure madness.

With as many as nine teams challenging for the top four spots and six teams fighting to avoid relegation this past season, the nonstop excitement of the Premier League is infectious. Each and every game means something and has some effect on the table. Each and every mistake could be costly, and one moment of absolute genius could define a game, a season, a career, and even the future of an entire team.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Argentinian striker Sergio Agüero, who scored a go-ahead goal against Queens Park Rangers in the dying seconds of the last game of the 2011-12 season to leapfrog Manchester United at the top of the table and win the Premier League for Manchester City on goal difference.

Or, if you don’t believe him, ask English midfielder Ben Watson, who scored a stoppage-time winner against Man City in the 2013 FA Cup final to help already-relegated Wigan Athletic, a team that just got relegated again to League One this past year, lift its first major trophy.

And if you’re still skeptical, ask Belgian winger Eden Hazard, the man that equalized for Chelsea against Tottenham in May of 2016 to secure the Premier League title for Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City, a coach and a team that overcame 5,000-1 odds to win it all.

So, yes, it may sound odd at first to hear that English soccer is as popular as it is, but watch for yourself, and you’ll quickly understand why.

Win, lose, or tie, Chelsea 'til I die, keep the blue flag flying high. Born and raised in New York City and an avid viewer of the English Premier League. Besides playing and watching soccer, I love to bike and write songs.

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