The Premier League fixtures for 2017/18 were released on Wednesday to a mixture of excitement, indignation
The former two emotions are based on your own judgement on how kind that computer’s random programme was on your club but the third because, ultimately, everyone has to play everyone at some stage, so why does it matter?
Well, it matters because – ignoring the practical implications of fans having to plan transport and accommodation around matchdays – who and when you play them can shape your entire campaign.
A strong start or finish can make or break a season while that hectic period in late December-early January, when squad resources are stretched to their maximum, can be negotiated that little easier with a lighter schedule.
Of course, many variables are still at play before the season kicks off on August 12, but based on our initial look at the fixtures, here are our winners and losers…
The major question hanging over Tottenham’s season, and will hold them back initially from being among the genuine title favourites, is how they perform at their adopted home Wembley.
Their form at White Hart Lane last term was sensational – 2.78 points per game, 2.47 goals, 0.47 conceded – and they’ll need to get somewhere close to that at a stadium where they have lost seven times in 10 matches.
Manager Pochettino, therefore, will be pleased by the fact that of their first 10 matches under the arch, only two are against top-six teams – Chelsea and Liverpool. The Argentine’s squad management is also eased with the news that five out of Spurs’ six Champions League group games will be followed by a home match.
MANCHESTER UNITED’S NEW NO9
We’re yet to discover the identity of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s replacement but at least one of Alvaro Morata and Andrea Belotti look set to sign for United. With Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial also in the mix, Jose Mourinho should have a wealth of talent to lead the line on August 12.
And what better way for a United striker to start than with West Ham (1.68 goals conceded per game), Swansea (1.84), Leicester (1.65) and Stoke (1.57); who made up four of the worst 10 defences last season.
West Brom may have secured a solid 10th-placed and never really looked in any danger of being relegated but Baggies fans still remain sceptical of Pulis. What you see is what you get with Pulis, and beyond his sole rogue element of having a baseball cap permanently fixed, is a conservative manager with a strict defence-first policy
and little inspiration elsewhere.
Just grinding out results often doesn’t hold much currency for long if things go pear-shaped and given West Brom lost eight of their last nine games, should they get off to a poor start, he could be a man very much under pressure.
Thankfully for the Welshman, their first five matches are all against teams unlikely to cause too much trouble at the top: Bournemouth (H), Burnley (A), Stoke (H), Brighton (A) and West Ham (H).
Arsenal’s collective misery at competing in the Europa League will be compounded by the fact that just one of their six European ties are followed by a home game. That Thursday-Sunday fixture run is every top-flight manager’s worst nightmare as squads are stretched to breaking point.
Factor in Arsenal’s injury record, that they possessed the worst home record of all the top six clubs last term and, by Christmas, any ambitions of a title run could be completely extinguished.
There’s an ambivalence towards Koeman among Everton fans. The Dutchman had a decent first season but failed to fully ingratiate himself with supporters. Much of that stems from his fascination with Barcelona and the belief he’s a man constantly looking for a better offer, whether it be at home or abroad, and Everton are merely a career launchpad for him.
What that means is that things, theoretically, could turn sour very quickly should the Toffees endure a sticky start. And they arguably have the toughest opening run of any of the 20 teams as four of their opening six games are against Man City (A), Chelsea (A), Tottenham (H) and Man United (A).
There is an air of mystery around a goalkeeper who City paid a world record transfer for after just one full top-flight season in Portugal. Ederson’s distribution is likely to be first-class but, of course, the big question mark will be how quickly he adapts to his new city, country and way of life, on and off the field.
It’s not his fault but Pep Guardiola’s Claudio Bravo-sized error means Ederson’s performances will be a lightning rod for the critics eternally hovering over the Catalan’s every decision.
That’s a lot for a relatively raw 23-year-old to deal with, and his competitive debut is likely to be a trip to a fervent sunny south coast with newly-promoted Brighton on opening day while by September 30 he would have encountered three of last season’s best six attacking sides in Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea.