Relegation is already decided for this year’s Premier League. Hull City, Middlesbrough and Sunderland will play next season in the Championship, the second division in England. It’s not a surprise for any of the three teams, as all have suffered this fate before. All three probably will be back, soon enough, and then drop down again.

It’s the dark side of the English system, and every big European league: Reaching the top is all but impossible, but the punishments — in the form of relegations — can be unlimited. It’s worth wondering whether this is actually a good way to do things.

Finding fallen giants in the lower leagues is not difficult. Blackburn, which won the Premier League in 1995, was relegated from the Championship this year, becoming the first Premier League winner to land in the third division. Nottingham Forest won two consecutive European Cups in 1979 and 1980, but only escaped the same fate as Blackburn based on goal difference.

Six other former Premier League teams have fallen to the third tier. Three more — Blackpool, Coventry City and Swindon Town — are now in the fourth division.

Really, the only team that has made the reverse journey — from a lower league to among the regular Premier League elite — is Manchester City, which is funded by uncountable oil riches and plays in one of England’s biggest cities.

Six teams have played all 25 seasons of the Premier League — Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton. Every other team has struggled.

Middlesbrough and Sunderland’s relegations are their fourth from the Premier League, tied for first in the relegation standings. Six others have suffered that fate three times.

The story of Blackburn or Forest or Blackpool should be a cautionary tale. But for the fans of those teams, it is a nightmare in real time. Blackpool fans have given up going to games, the only form of protest left to them. Charlton Athletic fans have traveled to protest at other European clubs owned by their team’s owner. Leyton Orient fans stormed the field at their club’s final home game of the year, in protest of their club’s poor management.

If you’re a fan of one of those teams, your team is being driven into a ditch and there’s nothing you can do. Relegations just mean your favorite team is repeatedly punished for something you can’t control.

In theory, any well-run club can reach the top. In practice, though, the only way to break through is a ridiculous amount of money. And given the number of clubs that have been run into the ground by rich owners, there’s no guarantee even money is enough. Talent and success — and the financial riches that go with them — all flow to the top of the pyramid, leaving any club outside the small cabal of successful clubs with no hope.

Eighty-five of the 92 league teams in England are, effectively, hopeless. Is that really the best possible system?

Short takes

• Monaco’s midweek victory over St. Etienne clinched its first French title in 17 years, a huge achievement for a club that’s chosen youth development over matching the vast spending of Paris Saint-Germain. Over in Italy, meanwhile, Juventus won the Coppa Itali, and needs one more win to clinch the Serie A title. But only a Champions League title will truly make Juventus fans happy.

• U.S. national team standout Mallory Pugh, just 19, decided to forgo a potential career in Europe and signed a contract in America. It’s great news for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which gets the biggest star of the new generation. Though Pugh was rumored to be holding out to force a trade to Portland, she instead followed the league’s allocation mechanism and signed with Washington. It’s nice to see something in the NWSL working correctly.

• NWSL players, at least those who aren’t paid through the women’s national team, have really had no say in what they’re paid or how they’re treated. For the first time, though, those players have formed a players’ union. U.S. Soccer had a staredown with the women’s national team earlier this year. Another one with the new NWSL Players’ Association could be upcoming.


Premier League: Middlesbrough at Liverpool, 9 a.m. Sunday, NBCSN. Liverpool’s lack of a title challenge this year has been disappointing. But for a team that’s missed out on the Champions League in six of the past seven years, finishing in the top four would be a decent consolation prize. A win against relegated Boro would seal the deal.

Liga MX: Toluca at Chivas, 6 p.m. Saturday, UniMas. It’s been 11 years since Chivas, one of the most popular teams in Mexico, last took home a league title. In the past few years, the club has been closer to relegation than championships. But a Copa MX victory this spring has fans believing. A home win would put Chivas into the Clausura title game.

La Liga: Real Madrid at Málaga, 1 p.m. Sunday, beIN. This is it for Real Madrid — one game left, one point needed for the La Liga title. Madrid has won two of the past three Champions League titles, and may win a third this year, but has only one La Liga title in the past nine years. It’s a testament to how hard it is to win the Spanish league.

MLS: New York City at Orlando City, 6 p.m. Sunday, FS1. Toronto is trying to run away with the Eastern Conference, but the way these two teams are set up, either one could be TFC’s biggest obstacle to conference supremacy. It’s also a chance for Orlando City coach Jason Kreis to get revenge on NYCFC, the team that dumped him two years ago.