The Premier League’s newly polished locomotive pulled out of the station last week with next season’s fixture list being released – leaving fans scrambling to get on and analyse where their team’s chances lie.
Every year, the advent of fixtures begins the build-up to the start of play on August 17 – Community Shield aside – and it undoubtedly takes on a greater significance this season.
What could be considered a unchartered post-Ferguson era is upon the entire landscape of English football.
Any accusations of fixture bias levelled at Manchester United are consigned to history now that the computer has aimed right at David Moyes’ jugular.
For Manchester’s giants, the scheduling throws up some interesting encounters – not least the baptism of fixture fire Moyes will receive at his new club.
The Scot returned from his holiday this week, refreshed certainly, but he will have probably kept one eye on movements at the club – and the difficulty of his first five games.
He will be well aware how tricky an opener away to Swansea City is – bearing in mind José Mourinho’s Chelsea will be making the trip to Old Trafford a week later followed by a game against Liverpool at Anfield.
A September encounter with rivals City may be a relief to both teams, as it presents them with an early opportunity to make their mark on each other, and for Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini to place a yardstick.
While Ferguson’s teams were well known for their gradual improvement, Moyes must build in his own image, navigating his squad through fixtures with minimal fuss.
Should there be a sluggish start from United this time, the biggest test will be whether any potential slide away from the top can be arrested.
Of course, it is not possible to win a championship in September but it can certainly be lost, and should they avoid early slip-ups the fixtures from February are generally kind to them.
Across town, City’s first games against Newcastle United, Cardiff City, Hull City and Stoke City are noticeably easier.
Their Christmas list appears inconclusive, but Swansea and Liverpool crop up again at a crucial time, just as they do for the Red Devils.
The Etihad today is more of a fortress than it ever was and so away games are where Pellegrini will feel the greater focus lies.
Where United will feel an advantage is their run-in – assuming they are still in contention – though an emotionally-charged trip to Goodison Park in mid-April may promise a sinister side to the warm welcome.
Squad management will be key, as it always is, and it may take an exceptional run of form to render a tough run of games irrelevant.
The Manchester clubs will be favourites for the crown, but as the league train gathers speed, it may not take much to derail a title challenge.
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