The European Championship may be in full swing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get excited about the announcement of the Premier League fixture list for the 2016-17 season. Here’s a quick reaction to some of the more notable lines to come out of the fixture list…
Easiest start to the season
New Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola gets a relatively straightforward start to life in the rough and tumble of the Premier League, kicking off at home to Sunderland before travelling to Stoke, then it’s home to West Ham before the Manchester derby with Jose Mourinho and all that entails, and then it’s back to more gentle far with Bournemouth and Swansea. Though they pay for it in December.
Arsenal have perhaps the toughest start to the campaign of the big clubs: they face Liverpool, Leicester and Chelsea in their first six fixtures; while Liverpool’s away run begins Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea. But Hull’s start is positively nightmarish: the Tigers will have to play Leicester, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea before Oct. 1. Get them out of the way early, eh?
If Mourinho is to take Manchester United back to something like their past glories, he’ll have a tricky final few weeks of the season to face. In their last eight games United face Everton, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, as well as potentially troublesome trips to Sunderland and Burnley who, with all due respect and so forth, could well be scrapping against relegation at that stage.
Tough run for a title contender
For Chelsea’s sake, hopefully Antonio Conte will have got things working by January and hasn’t already been sacked in a fit of Roman Abramovich pique. The new year sees them travel to Tottenham, then Leicester, a small bit of respite with a home game against Hull, before it’s back on the horse with games against Liverpool and Arsenal. It could be a defining few weeks.
Five big games in the first half of the season
Leicester vs. Arsenal, Aug. 20, 2016 — Will Arsenal have bought half the Leicester team by then? Will Claudio Ranieri’s men carry on their implausible story? A spicy one for the second weekend of the season.
Manchester City vs. Manchester United, Sept. 10, 2016 — More on this later, but perhaps for the first time the Manchester derby will be less a local rivalry between two teams in the same city, more an ego grapple between perhaps the two most high profile managers in the world.
Liverpool vs. Manchester United, Oct. 15, 2016 — No Champions League for these two this year, but that makes the domestic clashes even more important. Jurgen Klopp has had some time to build his Liverpool team, while Mourinho should be just whipping his United into shape by October.
Tottenham vs. Leicester, Oct. 29, 2016 — By the end of October we might have a decent idea of how the campaigns of the two main title challengers from last season will pan out. Will Tottenham build on their enormous promise? Will Leicester be merely a flash in the pan?
Southampton vs. Everton, Nov. 26, 2016 – Many were slightly puzzled at the idea of Ronald Koeman leaving a pretty steady ship at Southampton for Everton, but a group of good young players and a stack of cash to spend means it’s hardly a step back. We might know if he’s made a good decision by November.
Pep vs. Jose
Brace yourselves, batten down the hatches, hammer large pieces of crooked wood over the windows: Sept. 10 sees the return of one of the nastier managerial grudge matches in world football, as Guardiola’s Manchester City travel to face Mourinho’s Manchester United. Perhaps in his early days at Old Trafford, Mourinho will be a little more calm than usual. But even if things are initially pleasant on the surface, everyone knows deep resentment will be simmering, and who knows what could happen?
Mourinho’s return to Chelsea
It could be an emotional few weeks for Mourinho, because a month or so after he’s finished wrestling with Guardiola he’ll come up against some other old friends, as he takes United to Stamford Bridge on Oct. 22. It’ll be interesting to see how he is received by Chelsea fans, who sung his name well after his dismissal last season, but that was when he was safely unemployed: now he’s managing a team who are theoretically title rivals. Will the old sentimentality be gone?
Any other business
West Ham begin life at the Olympic Stadium with a mega clash for the ages, against, erm, Bournemouth. Perhaps not the headline-grabber that the owners would have wanted, but judging by the farewell party to Upton Park they’ll still probably lay on fireworks and a procession of mid-level former Hammers to parade on the pitch.
The three promoted teams will be welcomed back to the Premier League in slightly contrasting fashion, the opening day seeing Middlesbrough and Burnley given home fixtures against Stoke and Swansea respectively, while Hull have to host defending champions Leicester.
Unless something utterly implausible occurs again in the title race, the final day doesn’t look to have too many winner-takes-all clashes at the top of the table: Chelsea host Sunderland, United are at home to Crystal Palace, City are away at Watford, Arsenal are at home to Everton, Tottenham travel to Hull, while Leicester face Bournemouth.