Premier League 18/19 Fixtures: Five intriguing patterns for the 'big six'
Alex Keble analyses the fixture list for next season and highlights how Liverpool's tough Christmas, Man Utd's easy start, and Arsenal's nightmare opening could affect the title race...
"On April 20 Man City hosts Spurs while Man Utd travel to Everton, and one week later Man Utd welcome Chelsea to Old Trafford as City head to Burnley. All four of these matches will be very difficult, and with a potential 12-point shift over the seven-day period this could prove to be the defining period of the 2018/19 campaign."
At 9am this morning the Premier League announced the complete fixture list for the 2018/19 season. The timing is a little off, of course. There's a sense of spiteful machismo to the Premier League reminding us of its own opening ceremony just hours before the World Cup gets underway, the announcement portraying Richard Scudamore's clan in full pout mode.
Nothing can distract us from the rising fever in Russia, from the BBC's beautiful tapestry advert, from the nostalgia for World Cup moments past even as Spain are forging new ones.
Well, sort of. There is still time before Russia and Saudi Arabia kick off the tournament at 4pm to indulge momentarily in the Premier League. It is too early to get excited about a fresh title challenge in English football, but with some big signings already secured the Premier League is providing some intriguing background music.
Here are five interesting things about how the 2018/19 fixtures have fallen for the Premier League's 'Big Six':
1) Manchester United have an easy start before they face City on November 10
Jose Mourinho teams tend to dramatically collapse during his third season in charge, and so an awkward opening could have proved disastrous for the Portuguese. Instead, Man Utd have been handed a relatively simple first few months of the new season, which could allow them to build serious momentum before they face rivals and title favourites Manchester City in mid-November.
Assuming United have a strong summer they should earn close to maximum points from their opening games against Leicester City (h), Brighton (a), Tottenham Hotspur (h), Burnley (a), Watford (a), Wolves (h), West Ham (a), and Newcastle United (h). This would put them in a very strong position psychologically to avoid defeat at Stamford Bridge before they travel to the Etihad a few weeks later.
There is no sticky run of consecutive games and there are few troublesome away matches in the opening months for United. That could be the key to a title challenge, for which they can be backed at [7.8] on the Exchange.
2) Unai Emery faces a baptism of fire against Manchester City and Chelsea
The rebuilding job facing new Arsenal manager Unai Emery is huge. Not only will the club be facing another season of difficult Thursday-Sunday matches but the Spaniard has been handed just £50 million to fix a badly depleted side. The last thing he needed, then, was a tough start.
Arsenal host champions Man City on the opening weekend before travelling to Chelsea one week later, which means Emery's side could be near the bottom of the table by the time West Ham United come to the Emirates at the end of August. It gets easier after this - September brings Cardiff City (a), Newcastle (a), Everton (h), and Watford (h) - but Gunners fans will be understandably disappointed with their lot.
The West Ham and Cardiff games could be pivotal moments in the Emery regime. Failure to win either of these matches could leave Arsenal with around four points from the opening four games before players go away for the September international break. They don't want to be stewing in that atmosphere for a whole fortnight.
The Gunners can be backed at [34.0] to win the title.
3) Tottenham's tough early run of away games is bad news given their stadium situation
The new White Hart Lane won't open until September (the inaugural match will be against Liverpool on September 15) and in the meantime Spurs will probably continue to play at Wembley. This is a frustrating situation for the players, who will feel strangely homeless for the first month and then face an awkward transition period mid-season.
They could have done with a nice and easy start away from home, then. Instead Mauricio Pochettino's side face Newcastle and Man Utd in their first two; they could realistically be relying upon a fast start at their new stadium to avoid yet another disappointing August and September.
Spurs are fifth favourites in the Premier League Winner market, currently trading at [21.0].
4) Liverpool have the toughest Christmas - and an intriguing final day
Arguably the most exciting thing about next season is whether or not Liverpool can sustain a genuine title challenge (they are currently priced at [6.8]). They have already signed Naby Keita and Fabinho, while the Nabil Fekir deal could be revived at a later date and a whole host of high-quality of players have been linked with a move. If Jurgen Klopp gets three more big names then Liverpool will be ready to close in on Man City.
Nothing particularly stands out about their start to the season - West Ham (h), Crystal Palace (a), Brighton (h), Leicester (a), Spurs (a) - but things get interesting at Christmas when they host Arsenal on December 29 and travel to Man City on January 1. Those two matches, just three days apart, could make or break Liverpool's season.
Should Klopp's side be locked in a title race on the final day, then all eyes would turn to St. James' Park for one of the Premier League's most famous fixtures. Newcastle United fans would love to prevent Liverpool from lifting the trophy.
5) Two huge games, one week apart in April, could separate the Manchester clubs
We're all hoping for a title challenge next year, and realistically Man Utd are the most likely club to keep pace with Pep Guardiola's side, who are the 4/6 favourites on the Betfair Sportsbook. The second United v City game is played on March 16, but if they remain deadlocked after this event then the title might just swing decisively one way or the other in the final week of April.
On April 20 Man City hosts Spurs while Man Utd travel to Everton, and one week later Man Utd welcome Chelsea to Old Trafford as City head to Burnley. All four of these matches will be very difficult, and with a potential 12-point shift over the seven-day period this could prove to be the defining period of the 2018/19 campaign.