Wednesday 22 November 2017

Christmas festival of football as teams poised to face four games in nine days

Antonio Conte and Chelsea begin the defence of their Premier League title with a home game against Burnley. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Antonio Conte and Chelsea begin the defence of their Premier League title with a home game against Burnley. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Jason Burt

The greatest show on earth is back top of the agenda.

And for England, the release of next season's Premier League fixtures could hardly have been better timed, being published 11 hours after France taught Gareth Southgate's team such a harsh lesson.

Arsenal posted on social media about the contributions of their pair, Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny, to the victory in Paris.

And the brilliant youngsters in the French side - Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé and Thomas Lemar chief among them - well, with a pot of cash they might even follow world-record signing Paul Pogba to England. If you cannot beat 'em, make sure they join you.

The release of the fixtures is, of course, just a mere guide even if there is always a sharpening of the mind and a buzz of excitement with their unveiling, not least for the newly promoted, with Brighton hosting Manchester City the stand-out game of the opening weekend, Newcastle at home to Tottenham r and Huddersfield travelling to Crystal Palace.

But do not book flights and tickets just yet. The first TV picks are made on July 10 and, as was pointed out within minutes of the fixtures being published at 9am, Liverpool, for example, had 29 of their 38 league games rescheduled through broadcast demands last season. And they were not even in Europe.

The biggest talking point, though, was the confirmation of the festive cramming. From November 25 to January 1, every team will play 10 times, including on December 23 and December 26.

It means there will be four league games in nine days over Christmas and New Year, so managers can cut and paste their comments from last season, and the season before about congestion and fatigue.

It all kicks off on Saturday, August 12 and runs until Sunday, May 13, a week earlier than last season, with the World Cup finals starting in Russia on June 14.

Chelsea will begin their title defence at home to Burnley and then face Everton, Tottenham, Leicester and Arsenal. The fixture that jumps out is their first away game, when they will be the first team to visit Spurs' temporary home at Wembley Stadium. Spurs' use of Wembley has even confirmed the first fixture that has to be rescheduled - they cannot face Burnley at home on August 26 because it is the same day as the Rugby League Challenge Cup final.

Similarly, West Ham are unable to play at home until September because the London Stadium will not be ready after hosting the World Athletics Championships. Their scheduled first home fixture on August 19 against Southampton could now be reversed.

One manager who will pore over the fixtures is the arch-conspiracy theorist Jose Mourinho but even Manchester United cannot complain about an opening sequence of West Ham, Swansea, Leicester and Stoke.

Across town, Pep Guardiola's second season at City will pit him against Liverpool relatively early, on September 9, while Jurgen Klopp's side face four of the top six before October is out.

Arsenal are playing in the Europa League so some of their fixtures will be pushed back to Sunday. They begin at home to Leicester; five of their six matches after European ties are away from home.

Spare a thought for Leicester's new manager Craig Shakespeare, whose first six games include Arsenal, United, Chelsea and Liverpool. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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