The countdown to the new Premier League season is truly underway now after the complete set of fixtures were released this week. It’s a time of tension and excitement, especially for the newly promoted sides like Swansea, who discovered they will face the tough test of Manchester City at Eastlands in their first premier league outing. It’s also the first chance the Title and Champions league contenders will get a chance to eye up the fixtures and potential season changing periods.
Although an array of myths and statistics surround the fixture list, do the fixtures actually matter and have an influence on where the Championship and battle for top places are won or lost?
Last season this debate was arguably chucked out the window with the unpredictable, roller coaster ride which was the 2010/2011 Premier League season; who could have predicted Wolves beating Manchester United and Chelsea or Newly promoted Blackpool doing the double over Liverpool. That’s football… but I will attempt to analyse where the 2011/2012 Premier league title could be won or lost.
At a glance champions Manchester United have a tough first 5 games, facing Tottenham , Arsenal and Chelsea along with the tricky West Bromwich Albion and Bolton Wanderers. However gloomy this may seem it is handy to note their fixtures against the ‘tougher’ teams of Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea are all played at Old Trafford, United will also have the fearlessness of going into the season as champions and a sense of invulnerability having just trumped rivals Liverpool’s Title tally of 19.
The winter and Christmas period are seen by most as the most crucial part of the season, it is often the team who can endure the tense schedule the best who comes out on top in the title race. On this evidence, Sir Alex Ferguson will be pleased with the Christmas schedule handing him newly promoted Queens Park Rangers, Fulham, Wigan, Blackburn and Newcastle , although no game in the hectic Christmas bonanza is easy.
The Manchester Derby scheduled for the April 28th will be being touted as a potential title decider as the season draws to an end, the game at Eastlands could be decisive if both halves of Manchester are pushing for Title glory.
The Manchester City fans will be craving further domestic success following their FA Cup triumph last term. Roberto Mancini ’s men will be looking to kick off their campaign in flying style with Swansea City at home on the first day followed by tough trips to Bolton and Tottenham. Last seasons promising start unfortunately ended in The Sky Blues fading away in the latter half of the season, they will have a tough ask in seeking to keep stability over the pivotal Christmas period with home games against Arsenal and Liverpool along with clashes with Stoke, Sunderland and West Brom.
Experts will however point to the two intriguing Manchester derbys, timed at crucial points in the season and say that whoever builds their confidence with possible big wins in either of these games could walk away with the title.
Chelsea will be looking to bounce back from their disappointing last season; the new manager at the helms’ first league game in charge will be a challenging trip to Stoke City. The Blues however will not be too disappointed with the following home games against West Brom and new boys Norwich City . The coaching team will clearly be looking to set straight the disastrous winter the club had last term, when their season capitulated in a tangle of injuries, backroom debacle and poor performances. The Christmas period sees them face Wigan and Tottenham on the road followed by Fulham and Aston Villa at home.
However, the Christmas fixture list didn’t seem spectacularly difficult last year, so it’s hard to predict what Chelsea will bring to the table this year. The back end of the season seems a tough one for Chelsea, with some tough games facing them in any nail biting title chase they may be involved in. Difficult away games at rivals’ Arsenal and Liverpool would not be welcomed if the title chases goes down to the wire. It’s hard to predict how the fixtures will go with a team who last year won games they were expected to lose and visa versa, so anything could happen with Chelsea this year.
Arsenal will find it difficult replicating the solid start they had last season with matches against Liverpool and Manchester United in their first 3 games, aswell as an opening day trip to St. James Park, where they suffered at the hands of that infamous Newcastle fight back last season. The young Gunners’ squad will not want to see the pressure of being top dogs’ build up like last season, meaning the fixture list may have been kinder to them this term with Christmas fixtures against Manchester City , Aston Villa, Wolves and QPR .
Arsene Wenger will look to target this stage of the season to consolidate any good start they may have had and keep his players minds focused on the road ahead. Crunch match at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea aside, the home stretch of fixtures may also favour Arsenal, where they will face Wolves, Wigan, Stoke, Norwich and West Brom. The Gunners did however seem capable of beating and losing to anyone in equal measure last term so they will not be taking any perceived ‘easy’ games for granted.
If Liverpool are to defy many pundits and mount a title challenge in 2011/2012, they’re going to clearly have to start better than last season, Kenny Dalglish will not want to see the Reds sitting bottom of the Premier League in September, the scenario Roy Hodgson found himself in. Dalglish faces a sturdy challenge with a tough and relentless start with 20 million pound man Jordan Henderson ’s immediate return to Sunderland followed by Arsenal and Tottenham in September and then fierce rivalry battles with Everton and Manchester United in October.
Their final run in of games sees them face Chelsea at Anfield, potentially a huge game, aswell as West Brom and Swansea at home. If Liverpool were to show the same passion and consistency they did when Dalglish took over, no team will wish to face them and they could be right up there at the end of the season.
The recent flurry of transfer activity has only added to the intrigue of the fixtures being released and with no senior international competitions to look forward, everyone is looking forward to the new Premier league season and it promises to be just as unpredictable and erratic as the last.
Read more of Sam Scott’s articles at This is Futbol