As soon as the fixtures for the 2011-12 Premier League season were released, they themselves became a fixture on Sky Sports News’ information bars. Fans of each Premiership club had the pleasure of seeing the first 6 games of the season emblazoned on their television screen, with the slow, monotonous rotation through each team a genuine spectacle to behold. That is, if it is 3 in the morning and you can’t muster the effort to go to go to bed. But hey, that’s was Sky Sports News is for; killing dead time.
Personally I find it tedious that these fixtures are paraded almost a whole 2 months before the season even kicks off, although I understand that it gives fans a chance to earmark important games and gives them an opportunity to prepare for their arrival. But how important are the 6 games that float so tantalisingly on the screen for such an extended period?
The general consensus seems to be that pre-season matches are not all about the result, but instead about fitness and, towards the end of the friendly fixtures, the performance. The jump from that into the new season is quite spectacular. Let’s look at Liverpool last year, ‘enjoying’ life under new boss Roy Hodgson so much that they languished in the bottom 3. 6 points from these 6 games was not enough for the hungry Liverpool support, sowing the seeds of doubt regarding the former Fulham manager’s ability to perform at a club with high expectations. With hindsight we can see that Liverpool ended the season 6th, failing to achieve their target of getting back in to the Champion’s League places.
At the other end of the table, Chelsea had picked up from where they left off the season before. The London club had been crowned Champions on the last day of the previous season with an 8-0 victory over Wigan, and were continuing their formidable goal-scoring form. They opened-up with a 6-0 thrashing of newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion, and repeated that scoreline in the next game away to Wigan. Of the opening 6 games, Chelsea won 5, scoring an impressive 21 goals and losing only to Manchester City, 1-0 at the City of Manchester Stadium. Their form was so imperious that many in the footballing world had all but handed the West London club the title. They held top spot in the league until the 15th round of fixtures, before surrendering their grip in the midst of an atrocious run of form between November and January, and ultimately finished second, not high enough to save Carlo Ancelotti’s job.
Down at the bottom of the league, Wolves found themselves staving off relegation from the very start of the season. 5 points from the opening 6 fixtures saw them below Liverpool in 19th, and after they had lost to Chelsea on the 14th game of the season, they had only 9 points and were looking as if they were free-falling out of the league. Obviously by the end of the season they just managed to turn their fortunes around, but the results from their first few games did them no favours.
It really is hard to try and see any kind of link between the first 6 fixtures and where your team finds itself come the end of the season. The old cliché goes that you can’t win it in August, but you can lose it. Apparently, that is a whole load crap. The idea that you could be in an irreparable position after so few games is reserved for those that don’t deserve to be in the Premier League. The fact that relegation, the title race and the hunt for Europe were all closely fought shows the strength of the league as a whole, and a few bad games at the start of the season will not change that for any club.
How important are the first matches you for you? Let me know on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/_tomclose