Of all the minor and possibly fictional holidays in the world, Fixture List Day is a favourite of football fans the world over. Fixture List Day is the first real taste of the new season, and, consequently, is the first real chance to have a moan over the unfairness of the schedule and the ability to predict one season's fate based on a list of thirty-eight matches. When the fixture list was released last month, Trev spent some time combing through the highlights of the upcoming season, and today we delve a little deeper into five key dates in the calendar that could make or break Liverpool's season.
Stoke City (August 17)
Opening day is less than three short weeks away, and while
a visit to a ground that has its own meme the opposition is not exactly the riveting kick-off to the season many might have hoped for, it will be the game in which season long narratives will be born. Is Philippe Coutinho too tinyfragileawesome to compete against Stoke's soulless robots? Can Liverpool score goals without Luis Suarez, who may or may not still be with the club but won't be participating even if he is? Is life with Kolo Toure as a starter really the worst? No matter how inane, much of what comes out of this game will set the stage for how many will talk about Liverpool for the rest of the season.
League Cup Second Round (August TBC)
There's an inclination to field a weakened side against or to take less seriously the lower league side Liverpool will be drawn against, but we've seen in the past — *cough* Northampton Town *cough* — that not treating early rounds of cup competitions with the same respect as one might the league can have disastrous results. It may be England's less prestigious domestic cup tournament, but it's also a quick and dirty road to European qualification, and it's a competition in which Liverpool have a rich and record-breaking history. The club may be rightly focused on the league for the coming year, but an early knock-out from a cup competition this early into the season would definitely be a momentum killer.
Hull City (December 1)
It's not this fixture in and of itself that is desperately important, but the point in the calendar in which it falls that makes this match a crucial one for Liverpool. The visit to Hull is the club's thirteenth Premier League match, and comes after a slate of theoretically winnable matches but before the glut of games that makes December so grueling every single year. Sure, Liverpool face Manchester United at home and both Arsenal and Everton away during these first thirteen games, but they also face two newly promoted teams (Crystal Palace, Hull) and six teams that finished in the bottom half of the table (Stoke City, Aston Villa, Southampton, Sunderland, Newcastle, and Fulham).
Liverpool's inability to grind out wins against teams below them in the table has been considerably detrimental to their table climbing ambitions in the past few seasons, and so if that fate changes considerably this season, we'll know if we're in much better shape by the time the club make their way up to the north east of England. The moans are deafening when Liverpool fail to earn full points from all matches in the final stretch of the season, but European qualification and a respectable table position are built on the back of success earlier in the season.
FA Cup Third Round Proper (January TBC)
Like with the second round of the League Cup, the third round proper of the FA Cup can be a dicey fixture. Liverpool have had favourable draws in the last two seasons, taking on the likes of Oldham Athletic and Mansfield Town, but there is also the very real possibility of being drawn against a bitter rival like Manchester United, who defeated Liverpool in the third round three seasons ago. Again, like the League Cup, Liverpool have a strong history with this tournament, and with Liverpool entering the competition in the first week of January, a poor result could get the second half of the season off to an even poorer start.
Manchester United (March 15)
The reverse fixture at Old Trafford is one of a handful of fixtures for which players and fans alike immediately scan the newly released fixture list. Despite his current record, it's assumed that David Moyes will have figured out how to win at the Theatre of Dreams by the time Liverpool arrive in mid-March, but as much as this match will be about long-standing rivalries and red mist and who knows what else, it's also the point at which everyone becomes amateur mathematicians. With twenty-seven remaining points up for grabs, including three from this fixture, it's crunch time for those keeping track of whether or not Liverpool can still mathematically, if not realistically, win the League or earn Champions League qualification or, fine, maybe even Europa League competition if the right permutations of other teams' results go our way.