FIXTURE RELEASE DAY 2019
There are few certainties in life, apparently - death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin supposedly said that but he died a long time ago so we can forgive him for being unaware of two other certainties in life: the Premier League fixture release hoo-ha and the silly season. So blessed are we (read blessed like they do in sacred texts - bless-ed) that we get both of these guarantees concurrently and annually. It is marvellous isn't it? Imagine if those two other certainties were amalgamated. It would be like a tax on dying or an inheri………..oh never mind.
“I predict each team will play each other twice; home and away," one Tweeter enthusiastically prophesised, and he was right. That is exactly what happened. Apart from fans aren’t happy with that, not at all. Talksport reported that West Ham fans were furious that they had been drawn against another Premier League team in a Premier League game. The source of their angst is that Manchester City are their first opponents and that means they open their season against a team in the top six. Given that the league is 20-strong and you cannot play yourself, the probability of being drawn against a top 6 team is 32%: practically a one in three chance. It really isn't that unfortunate. What would be is if they were drawn against a team in the top six for the sixth year running. Turns out they have been. They've faced Spurs (H) in 2014, Arsenal (A), Chelsea (A), United (A), Liverpool (A ) , and now City (H) . Now the chance of that happening is 0.1%. Who knew maths could be so fun?
Somehow, however, not every team was prepared for fixture day fun. In fact, it seemingly took Liverpool completely by surprise, as they've had to cancel their last preseason friendly – of a whopping 10 game stretch - because it is too close to the start of the season. Due to have played German side Schalke at Anfield on Tuesday 6th August, the club have decided that opening the Premier League on a Friday Night Live Sky Sports Special ft. Gary 'I'm appalled' Neville and Jamie 'I don't believe it' Carragher on the 9th has made the friendly unfeasible. Oh well, Schalke said, we'll rearrange it for 2020. Rearrange a friendly? The game's gone.
Liverpool's opening five fixtures have been the other type of surprise for Fantasy Football players, though - pleasant. Starting their season at home to Norwich, they then play Southampton, Arsenal, Burnley and Newcastle. Apart from the fact Trent Alexander-Arnold will be worth about £8m, it could well be an astute move to triple up on Reds players. City have an equally attractive start for the fans of the game, opening with 0.1 % Ham (which is also what our bacon will consist of post-Brexit), Brighton, Bournemouth, Spurs, and Norwich. There will be many tempted by the prospect of six of their starting XI being drawn from last season's top two. I can see the spine of many a team now: Ederson, Gomez, Zinchenko, Mane, Sterling, and Salah.
The two of them will face each other for the second time in Gameweek 32, until it all changes multiple times throughout the season, making this week's release nothing short of a rough guide. Liverpool then end their season with Arsenal (A), Chelsea (H), and Newcastle (A)- a tough finale for a team who already achieved the impossible last season and still weren't good enough. After the head-to-head, City close the season on somewhat of a stroll, with Saints, Newcastle, Brighton, Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich. It is entirely feasible three of them could be fighting for survival come April and May.
I'll proudly say that I saw Wolves coming last season and my dark horse for the coming campaign is Norwich. Daniel Farke has them playing excellent football and they have some incredibly exciting players in Max Aarons, Emiliano Buendía, Onel Hernandez and Teemu Pukki. Aston Villa and Sheffield United, on the other hand, look a very busy window away from being Premier League quality. The Canaries’ Cuban winger will be the first player from the Caribbean island to play in the Premier League, something the Foreign Office probably won't draw attention to in the same way they did last year’s make-up, tweeting on Fixture Release Day – surely it is only a matter of time before this is declared a bank holiday - that last season's Premier League saw 68 different nationalities represented, shown in 188 countries to a TV audience of one billion, and that 700,000 people travelled to England to take in a game.
"Football in Cuba is not so big like other sports such as basketball," Hernandez modestly conceded, "but after winning the Championship, I had so many messages from people back home saying they are very proud of me and for me it was crazy to see. I'm very proud." Should Norwich stay up, Hernandez's Premier League status is secured for a while, having just signed a new four-year contract at the club. It is a tough final three games for his side, though: Chelsea, Burnley, and Manchester City.
Hernandez isn't the only new nationality to the league this year. Moussa Djenepo joined Southampton for £14m on Fixture Release Day. The Mali-born Mali international joins international teammates Bakary Sako and Yves Bissouma, but they were born in France and Cote D'Ivoire, respectively. It is a great piece of business for his former club, Standard Liege. He cost the Belgians just £50,000, two years ago, when they signed him from Malian side Yeelen Olympique. Before he joins up with the team, he's heading off to the AFCON.
Should Norwich not fare as I predict, they can take heart from the fact that should Brighton and Villa still be in danger heading into the final weeks, they both have tough run-ins. The last six games for the former are United, Spurs, Leicester, City, Saints, and Everton, whilst the latter face Liverpool, United, Palace, Everton, Arsenal and West Ham.
If you came here to find out who your club are playing on the opening day, on Boxing Day, at New Years, on your birthday, or on the final day, you probably shouldn't be allowed near a computer, let alone the internet. But just in case, I'll humour you with Gameweek 1:
Liverpool v Norwich City
West Ham v Manchester City
Bournemouth v Sheffield United
Burnley v Southampton
Crystal Palace v Everton
Leicester City v Wolves
Watford v Brighton
Tottenham v Aston Villa
Newcastle United v Arsenal
Manchester United v Chelsea