It’s official: the fixture list for the upcoming Premier League season has been published. With the reactions to it ranging from uncertainty to absolute devastation, two lessons were learned from yesterday’s draw:
1. Rumours are what they are: rumours! Even if supported by photographic “evidence”, the prediction that we would meet Manchester United at home in our opening match proved to be a non-starter. Let’s just hope we can say the same about the ongoing Vlaar rumours come September.
2. The habit of saying “it can’t get any worse” is as far removed from reality as some of the rumours doing the rounds and should be used with extreme care, especially knowing our luck when it comes to draws like this one. It almost seems like we were challenging Fortuna to come up with the most extreme scenarios. It looks like we lost out once more as she’s offered us a scary September – when a frightening run of five games begins.
In the opening match we will face Stoke City – away. Well, at least the Potters will make sure that our players know that the season has begun. The boys in claret and blue had better start to play some good football as the Potters are very uncomfortable opponents, even though their approach has thankfully become less physical during recent times. Our players don’t need to watch their legs that closely but rather focus on the football itself, which has to be good, and it will be Paul Lambert’s job to ensure that.
The next two matches, both at home, against Newcastle and Hull respectively, have gained importance and become absolute must-wins due to the games that follow them.
It’s matches four to eight that will offer most challenge: within the next five games we will meet all of last season’s top five teams in the league. If we have more points on the board after these five matches than after the first three that will either mean that we had an absolutely shocking start or that the players and staff can walk around with their heads held high. I think you can all imagine how much I hope the latter will be the case.
From then until the new year, we will play what seem to be the “easier” fixtures and, as always, we need to pick up points wherever we can.
The busy time around Christmas looks like a real present compared to our opening matches: facing Swansea, Sunderland and Crystal Palace could lead to a truly festive period if the team lives up to its potential.
When, for the second time, we are facing Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea in three consecutive matches in late January and early February, our players will already have experienced what may look like an absolute horror show to other clubs.
The rest of the season looks balanced fixture-wise but, as is always the case, the final matches could be key. Let’s hope our Premier League status is already safe at that time but, in case we are still in a fight for survival, an away game at Southampton and the final game – at home against promoted Burnley – should give us a chance if we need one. Needless to say, a club can never have too many points and whatever situation we face we should go for what is on offer in every single game: three points!
However, with none of the above matches played and pre-season yet to start we can conclude that the only thing it is safe to say about the fixture list is that we will face each of our nineteen opponents twice next season, once home and once away, and, while optimism might look odd in the bigger Villa picture at the moment, pessimism would be counterproductive. So let’s be positive about the things to come in the new season. Bring on pre-season!