Once the football season becomes a distant memory, we cling on to any scrap of information as we look ahead with high hopes and expectation. Transfer news, international friendlies and of course, once they’re released, the fixtures.
Last Wednesday’s announcement of the calendar, in my opinion at least, signals the beginning of the 2017/18. We’re officially allowed to call it ‘this season’ now. This article is a look ahead at the opening few weeks of the campaign, which kicks off on Saturday 12th August, although it’s unclear as yet which game TV will pick as the early one to begin the action.
Before we look at the games themselves, it’s worth noting that FPL have announced the newest version of the game will commence in the week beginning July 10th. My first piece of advice would be to go on to the site now, save as much information as you can about players, points they scored and different trends you can spot, helping you prepare as well as possible when it comes to selecting your team.
So the opening set of fixtures see’s champions Chelsea with the kindest fixture. Burnley at home is a lovely first game for Antonio Conte’s side, who will be confident of kicking off their title defence with a victory and a likely clean sheet. Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United are all on home soil too, although games against Leicester City, Stoke City and West Ham United respectively are all slightly tougher. Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur both begin away from home but games against Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United mean that both will be hopeful of starting with thee points. Liverpool travel to Watford, who usually start season’s as unknown quantities due to their revolving managerial door and turnover of playing staff. Crystal Palace host Playoff winners Huddersfield Town, Southampton are at home to Swansea City and Bournemouth travel to West Brom.
As I often say in my weekly FPL fixture analysis, looking at one set of games is all well and good but it’s all in the planning and you have to look forward too. To help you, we’ve produced the chart above detailing what we believe to be the difficulty scale of the first half of the season.
So yes, although Chelsea start with a kind game with Burnley, they travel to Spurs in Week 2, Leicester in Week 4 and host Everton in between. They then play Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in Week 5. Frankly, they’ll have had nicer starts down the years. So just be cautious when you plump for both Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso – guaranteed starters – because you expect clean sheets against Burnley, they might be few and far between in the following weeks.
Arsenal also have a really tough start. After hosting Leicester, the Gunners have a pair of away games against Stoke City and Liverpool before August is over. Arsene Wenger’s men traditionally struggle at Stoke, with their 4-1 win last season coming at a time when Mark Hughes’ team were already in flip flops. A home game with Bournemouth should provide three points, but those will be much needed before going across London to Chelsea.
Of the biggest clubs, Man United have the nicest start to the season. A trip to Swansea follows the hosting of West Ham, before they’re back at home to Leicester in Week 3. They then go to Stoke, face Everton at home and then go down to Southampton. These aren’t easy fixtures by any means, but they’re the only team from last year’s top six not to face any of the others from that part of the table. And of course, they may have Cristiano Ronaldo lining up for them by then! Even if that move – which is already threatening to dominate the summer – doesn’t come off, United will surely have a new striker primed and ready to take over Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s mantle. I’m expecting big things from Paul Pogba next season, having had a year to settle. The Frenchman is nowhere near as bad as some like to make out, and I can see him breaking 150 points next time around.
Spurs will be one to watch, with their move away from White Hart Lane making them a slightly different proposition. After travelling to Newcastle, their first match at Wembley is against Chelsea – the team who beat them in their last appearance their in the FA Cup semi final. Burnley there is a nicer second fixture, but their first game in September is a trip up to Everton. They then face Swansea back at ‘home’ before going to West Ham, where their title hopes took their final hit last season. The usual suspects for Spurs will be at the forefront of people’s minds, but this is a good time to remind people that Harry Kane doesn’t always start his season’s particularly quickly. Kane has been a bit of a slow burner the last two years, so perhaps a well rested Dele Alli or Hueng-Min Son might be a good option to kick off with. They may also sign some extra firepower, but whoever they bring in is unlikely to budge Kane too far from the picture whether he begins at walking pace or not.
In my eyes, West Brom have possibly the set of most winnable fixtures in the whole division. Bournemouth (H), Burnley (A), Stoke (H), Brighton (A) and West Ham (H) is, on paper, a pretty straightforward looking first five games, and Tony Pulis will hope to mix defensive solidarity with goals at the other end in these games. I will definitely look to have a couple of Baggies in my lineup for August and much of September with these games on the horizon. They’re seemingly making movements in the market, with Jay Rodriguez and interesting proposition potentially on the horizon. The Southampton man was listed as a midfielder in last season’s game but predominantly plays up front, where he’d likely partner Salomon Rondon. If the move goes through and the two can combine like Rodriguez and Ricky Lambert did for the Saints a couple of years back, that could have real point scoring potential.
Everton would be my team to avoid to start off with. Stoke at home is followed by trips to Man City and Chelsea. Spurs then travel to Goodison Park before Ronald Koeman’s men go to Old Trafford. It’s a really tough beginning to the season, although it makes their run from late September onwards a much more tantilising prospect if you’re looking to bring in some of their players.
Of the promoted clubs, Huddersfield have probably the kindest start – mostly because they don’t face one of last year’s top three on the opening day. After travelling to Palace, their first top flight game at home is against fellow-promoted Newcastle. They then host Southampton, travel to West Ham and play at home to Leicester in the following weeks. Again, not easy, but there are chances of points there for them.
At this stage, it’s difficult to make sweeping predictions as we don’t know what transfer business team’s may do between now and the beginning of the season. In some cases, teams don’t even have managers yet and it’s likely that by the time we’re ready for kick off (if we’re not already!) we’ll have a much better idea of how teams may perform.
I’ll be back before the action begins to give a more thorough run down of some of the teams that look in the best shape.
Written by Joe McPhee (@JPMc99)