Here’s something we wrote for LFC Xtra, the sister site of Liverpool’s official website.
It’s about our fixture list, and why we should approach it with excitement and not fear!
The view from EOTK: Why the ‘difficult’ fixture list is actually a blessing in disguise…
It seems as though the Premier League season has only just drawn to its close but, such is football, fans are already intently focussing on the next one – especially since the fixture list was released yesterday.
As fans scrolled through the list of confirmed matches, many Reds recoiled in horror at the opening sequence of away games awarded.
You can read Liverpool’s fixture list, here.
First up, Liverpool travel to Stoke, the scene of the 1-6 defeat on the final day of 2014/15. The next six away trips are as follows: Arsenal, Man United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea and Man City.
Following the trip to the Potters, we’re on the road at our six biggest rivals in succession.
A baptism of fire, certainly.
But here’s why the team should embrace it, and why it actually might work in our favour.
Play the best teams before they’ve settled…
Fans bemoaning the fixture list are working under the assumption that our first seven away games are not winnable. But our best chance of securing valuable points at our rivals’ grounds is by playing them before they’re up to speed.
Last term, Arsenal and Man United struggled early on, as their new signings took time to adjust. City were similarly erratic, and only Chelsea truly hit the ground running.
Anything can happen in August and September, and Brendan Rodgers, who just passed his third anniversary as manager, could take advantage of opposition ring rust.
What’s more, a defeat early on is not terminal to a side’s ambitions, as it often is later.
Winnable home matches…
Importantly, our early home games compensate for the tough away ones.
We’d hope for wins against Bournemouth, West Ham, Norwich and Aston Villa in August and September. And by securing wins at home, draws in difficult matches become very strong results. An average of two points per match guarantees Champions League football, such is the mathematical assumption. So in layman’s terms – getting as close as possible to home wins and away draws in the opening months leaves us right in contention in the run up to Christmas.
The Christmas period…
And here’s where it gets interesting. Our hectic festive period includes a run of traditionally kinder games when we need them most. Our Europa League campaign will be underway, and the table will have begun to take shape, too.
After the trip to the Etihad on November 21st, we play Swansea, Newcastle, West Brom, Watford, Leicester, Sunderland and West Ham in December – before we host United and Arsenal in January. This is when we peaked under Brendan Rodgers last season, and the run of matches gives us the opportunity to catapult ourselves into 2016.
It’s better for us (on paper) to play harder matches at the start of the term when the squad is fresh, and this fixture list maximises our chances of putting a string of wins together in the cramped winter months when it matters most.
Predicting where Liverpool will be at the start of April is nonsensical, but if we hypothetically put ourselves in the mix for the top four, we’d have as good a chance as any to secure Champions League football. Our crucial final five games are against Bournemouth, Newcastle, Swansea, Watford and West Brom.
Obviously we don’t know what state these teams will be in come Spring 2016, but judging them on paper is the best anyone can do right now.
When push comes to shove, we’d rather face one of these sides at the end of term in a must-win fixture than play one of our early away games during the run-in.
Of course, over-analysis of the fixture list is probably a mistake. It’s really just something to talk about when we’re deprived of top flight football, filling column inches alongside extravagant transfer rumours. Essentially, it’s the same for everyone: 38 matches. Everyone plays everyone home and away.
We can’t know or even speculate which teams will be affected by injuries at certain points, or when Team X will have Player A suspended, or when Team Y will hit a dramatic slump in form…
In essence, our season will be defined by our performances in games and not the order in which we play them…
What is certain is this: we’re Liverpool, and our fixture list should not strike fear in us, but in the eyes of our opponents!