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.
After failing to push through the transfer in January, Manchester United have finally got their man.
Victor Lindelof has put pen to paper with the Premier League giants after completing a £30.7million switch from Benfica on a four-year deal in a move which will significantly bolster their defence.
What will be interesting to see is how Jose Mourinho will fit Lindelof into his back-line.
In Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind, United already have five senior centre-backs while the likes of youngsters Alex Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have also made fleeting appearances.
Here, we look at the top three central defensive partnerships at Mourinho’s disposal.
Presumably, this would be the ideal centre back pairing. Bailly arrived at Old Trafford last season as something of an unknown quantity but the former Villareal defender quickly justified his £30 million reported fee and United will be hoping Lindelof follows in his footsteps.
Both centre backs are blessed with great physiques and are naturally equipped to cope with the physicality of the Premier League. They’re also both good on the ball. In fact, Lindelof is third this season in terms of the most passes per game in the Portuguese league (62.2) while also boasting an 89.9% pass accuracy.
However, while he’s more reliable in possession, Bailly is more likely to play more penetrating forward passes, ones that most centre backs don’t attempt as often. The Ivorian’s aggressive attitude also comes to the fore in his defending.
If there’s one criticism of the 23-year-old’s play it’s that he can sometimes be too aggressive in a tackle and get pulled out of position trying to win the ball. Lindelof on the other hand is more composed, living up to his ‘Iceman’ nickname.
The two defenders could compliment each other very well and if they both stay fit and forge a good understanding. With Lindelof turning 23 next month as well, this partnership has the potential to be United’s first choice central defensive pairing for the next decade.
Partnering Bailly and Marcos Rojo makes for an explosive central defence. Both are aggressive in a tackle and like to stride forward with the ball. Rojo in particular never resists a pop at goal whenever he’s anywhere near the vicinity of what’s considered striking range.
Rojo can seem like a liability at times given his rather reckless approach but on the whole, he was one of United’s better defenders this season. While he’s maybe not the most adept at reading danger, he’s got the fight, athleticism and determination to recover. It’s that commitment that’s endeared him to Mourinho.
However, in Bailly and Rojo, the Portuguese has two proactive centre backs and that can backfire when the duo are fielded together.
Smalling enjoyed his best season in the 2015-16 campaign under Louis van Gaal but much of that could be put down to the tactics employed. While some accuse Mourinho of being defensive-minded, the Dutchman’s approach had United playing safe passes while the full-backs were discouraged from venturing forward.
Van Gaal’s tactics meant that the defence was afforded plenty of protection more often than not and that seemed to allow Smalling to flourish but the Englishman lost his way a bit in the past year. Nevertheless, when fit, he has managed to put in a few good performances and given his seniority, would be able partner for Lindelof in defence.
While Smalling is not as physically imposing as Bailly or as athletic, he does have a good turn of pace and is capable of carrying the ball out of defence. With the Ivorian struggling with a couple of injuries in his debut season in the Premier League, Smalling may well be the chief candidate to step in for him.
On the other hand, while Mourinho has shown a willingness to field young players, the prospect of him putting faith in two 23-year-olds to anchor his central defence in Lindelof and Bailly may be a bit optimistic.
As such, the more experienced Smalling may be the man to partner either one of the two on most occasions. The 27-year-old however would have to bring his A-game to ensure a starting berth. The Lindelof-Smalling pairing comes closest to the Lindelof-Bailly combo whilst adding a dash of experience.
Another one to benefit hugely from Van Gaal’s tactics. The Dutch defender’s lack of athleticism can leave him vulnerable to the demands of the Premier League which is why he’s fallen down the pecking order under Mourinho. However, his supreme footballing brain and versatility makes him an ideal utility player, valuable to any squad.
Staying fit is half the battle for the Englishman. The United seems to value Jones’ attitude and aggression but the 25-year-old is prone to errors at the back and never looks convincing with the ball at his feet. If Mourinho decides to sell a defender, the former Blackburn man could be the one to go.
The United manager has spoken highly of the youngster, talking him up as early as during preseason last year. He’s shone every time he’s been given the opportunity and particularly impressed against Arsenal towards the end of the season when he came up against Alexis Sanchez and kept the Chilean quiet.
The 19-year-old has been used in a variety of positions when he’s been brought on this season and Mourinho has seemingly been impressed. Barring a loan move for either him or Tuanzebe, the duo could see more playing time this season.
All statistics and screenshots are taken from squawka.com, visit them for more in-depth player analysis
Champions Chelsea will start their 2017/18 Premier League campaign at home to Burnley.
The new season’s fixtures which were announced on Wednesday morning saw Antonio Conte’s team given a Stamford Bridge opener on the weekend of August 12/13.
Runners-up Tottenham start away from home for the seventh successive season. The trip to newly-promoted Newcastle is a repeat of the 2012/13 opener, which the Magpies won 2-1.
Manchester United begin at home to West Ham, 2016 champions Leicester visit Arsenal, while Liverpool go to Watford.
Check out the most interesting facts about each of the opening day fixtures in the video below.