Ah, the pre-season. It's that special time of year when everyone is undefeated and everything is possible. Liverpool supporters can rest easy, dream of winning the treble whilst Manchester United, Chelsea, and Everton get relegated. That is, we can dream right up until this moment, when we see the schedule and the ETW devil--who had also been asleep on our shoulders, dreaming sweet apocalyptic thoughts--wakes up, and realizes that things really are the worst.
The schedule, in the abstract, is a thing of beauty, with extensive rules. It is not just, for instance, Wayne Rooney with an Excel spreadsheet (as humorous as that might be to watch). The schedule must account for 96 teams across all 4 flights of England's Football League, amounting to 2,036 games. It must account for scheduling requests, and ensure that local rivals (e.g. Liverpool and Everton) are not both playing at home on the same day. It must ensure that in any 5 game set, no team plays more than 3 games at home or 3 away, and that no team plays more than 2 consecutive games at home or away. Additionally, the FA tries to ensure that clubs have home and away matches on either side of FA Cup matches. In reality, all of those well-laid plans get tossed out the window, especially in the second half of the season with replays, reschedules, and so on. But it's the thought that counts, right?
Without further ado FA scheduling gods, show me what you got:
Let's start with The Ugly, because Liverpool are, for a second year running, going to be forged in fire to start the season. The Reds travel to London to kick-off the season against Arsenal, before returning home to face newly-promoted Burnley, and then back to London to play Tottenham. After the worst international break of the year, the Reds host Leicester, before a third trip down to London in 5 matches, to play Chelsea. WOOF.
It won't be the first time that these London sides (plus Leicester) come in rapid succession. On February 1 Liverpool host Chelsea, travel away to Hull, then return to Anfield to host Spurs on the 11th. Following an international break, Liverpool then must travel to Leicester and then host Arsenal.
Are Derbies good, bad, ugly, or all three? Regardless, Liverpool will hope to heap misery on Mourinho in his first Liverpool-Manchester United Derby, as they must travel to Anfield on October 15. Liverpool makes the return trip to Old Trafford on January 14. As far as the Merseyside Derby is concerned, Liverpool will travel across the park on December 17, and host the Toffees on April 1, where the joke will hopefully be on Everton.
The good? Well, the hectic holiday schedule doesn't look so bad on paper. Of course, this is exactly what we said last year, and something, something no easy games in the Premier League. The last fixture in November will see the Reds host Sunderland, followed by a trip to Bournemouth. Then West Ham at home, Middlesbrough and Everton away, with Stoke City and Manchester City at home for Boxing Day and New Year's Eve, respectively. Liverpool start the New Year with a trip to Sunderland.
- The end of the season either looks promising, or terrifying, depending on your belief that boogey teams are a thing that exist. The last seven fixtures include trips to Stoke City, West Brom, Watford, and West Ham. The home fixtures aren't much better, with perenial headaches Crystal Palace coming to town, as well as Southampton and Middlesbrough. No "big names," but plenty of chances to embarrasingly drop points.