Friday, June 17, 2011

New English Premier League fixtures released

It's the best day of the summer -- the day when the EPL fixture list is released. You can see all the fixtures 
In one fell swoop, supporters of all 20 Prem teams can pore over the schedule and map out their team's road to glory, or perdition if you're one of those types. It's a time when virtually every statement must be followed with the asterisk of "on paper." As in, "My team should cruise through October and beat Sunderland and Wigan … on 
Without that "on paper," we know all too well that we could be looking the part of fools, especially after coming off such a topsy-turvy Premier League season. But that still doesn't stop us from fearless prognostications, counting up how many points we think our teams will tally for each month and where the title and relegation battles will be won and 
The season officially kicks off on Saturday, Aug. 13. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, what jumps out at first glance among some of the contenders for the first half of the season? Here are some top-line 
1. Arsenal has a rude 
Forget that the Gunners must qualify for the Champions League in August. They're also staring down the barrel of a fairly difficult start to the season, with a trip up north to Newcastle (where they infamously blew a four-goal lead in the corresponding fixture last season) before a home game against a revitalized Liverpool and a trip to Old Trafford. But Arsene Wenger's men will get a breather in September with matches at home with newly promoted Swansea and Bolton, as well as away to Blackburn, which should be a slam dunk of nine points. October will present stronger challenges in Tottenham away, the physical play of Sunderland and Stoke at home, and Chelsea away, before another nice respite in November: West Brom at home, Norwich away and Fulham at 
2. Defending champ's tough 
Manchester United starts off away at West Brom, which isn't exactly a guaranteed three points given the Red Devils' patchy away-form last season. Right after that come key tilts at home to Tottenham and Arsenal. Without being overly dramatic, these August clashes could foreshadow how the EPL season will play out. If United flops, it will embolden the other title contenders; if it lays down a marker by taking full points, it'll set the tone that it won't be easy to wrest the title away from the Red Devils. But after August, it doesn't get much easier for Sir Alex Ferguson and his players, with an away trip to Bolton, home to Chelsea and then away to Stoke all before Oct. 1. In fact, United will have faced the other top four finishers from last season before the end of October, and it'll have to compete against lunch-bucket teams like Bolton (Sept. 10) and Stoke (Sept. 24) on the road. But the crowded holiday fixture list has been kinder on paper, with newly promoted QPR, Fulham, Wigan and Blackburn from Dec. 17 to Dec. 31. Away to Newcastle on Jan. 2 could be a bit more problematic, 

3. We hardly missed you, Jordan Henderson
Fresh from his transfer from Sunderland, Liverpool's new midfielder Henderson might face his former team when the Reds host Steve Bruce's men at Anfield on the first game of the season. After that, Steven Gerrard & Co. travel to the Emirates, host Bolton and then are away to Stoke and Tottenham. The big derby with Everton is Oct. 1, and the Reds face Chelsea and Man City back-to-back in November.
4. Blues feeling good
Chelsea still might not have a manager yet, but it has a relatively easy ("on paper," of course) time out of the gates. The Blues start the season away to Stoke, and playing in Britannia Stadium is by no means a cakewalk. After that, they take on West Brom and Norwich at home, then away to Sunderland before facing United at Old Trafford on Sept. 17. There's no reason Roman Abramovich's team shouldn't face Ferguson having already bagged 12 points. Chelsea seems to benefit from having the top teams spaced out in the fixture list, as it doesn't play Arsenal until Oct. 29. Liverpool is Nov. 19. So the table is set for the Blues to get off to another strong start. Then again, we saw what happened last season when they were cruising along until the infamous sacking of Ray Wilkins.
5. Old 'Arry better be ready
As Spurs head coach Harry Redknapp fights to hold on to his prized midfielder Luka Modric, he must ready his troops for battle right away. In August, Tottenham faces Everton at home, United away and City at home. While it should beat Everton on (wait for it) paper, given that David Moyes' team has been bogged down by slow starts, it could also come away without any points after facing the two teams from Manchester. Fortunately for Spurs, the first of the derbies with Arsenal is at White Hart Lane, on Oct. 1, and during the crowded holiday fixture list, they face two newly promoted teams, Norwich and Swansea, away on Dec. 26 and Dec. 31, respectively, before returning home to take on West Brom on Jan. 2.
6. City's time to shine?
From the start of the season until Dec. 1, the Blues of Manchester face just one top-four team from last season: United on Oct. 22. In December, however, they play Chelsea and Arsenal back-to-back. But Roberto Mancini has a deep squad, one he'll probably add to during the summer to help slog through the six league fixtures in December, coupled with Champions League matches. Then again, City shouldn't look too far ahead, as August could also prove to be tricky. After opening the season at home to newly promoted Swansea, it faces Bolton and Tottenham away.

Opening weekend - Saturday, 13 August
Blackburn v Wolves
Fulham v Aston Villa
Liverpool v Sunderland
Manchester City v Swansea
Newcastle v Arsenal
QPR v Bolton
Stoke v Chelsea
Tottenham v Everton
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United
Wigan v Norwich
Saturday, 20 August
Arsenal v Liverpool
Aston Villa v Blackburn
Bolton v Manchester City
Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion
Everton v QPR
Manchester United v Tottenham
Norwich v Stoke
Sunderland v Newcastle
Swansea v Wigan
Wolves v Fulham
Saturday, 27 August
Aston Villa v Wolves
Blackburn v Everton
Chelsea v Norwich
Liverpool v Bolton
Manchester United v Arsenal
Newcastle v Fulham
Swansea v Sunderland
Tottenham v Manchester City
West Bromwich Albion v Stoke
Wigan v QPR


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