After the 2022/23 Premier League season was mapped out on Thursday morning, Daniel Meade assesses the potentially decisive dates and details…
Ah, Fixture Release Day, the over-invested football fan’s Christmas morning. You wake up rushing to see whether the big fixture computer has been naughty or nice, ready to discover what gifts lie in store this year. Will there be a summertime trip to the sunny south coast for the dedicated travelling fan? Or will a game fall on your birthday this year, ready to make or break the big occasion? There are innumerable variabilities that can be churned out by what we like to imagine is an enormous, chugging, whistling supercomputer but in reality is simply an algorithm on an administrator’s laptop.
However, there are always a number of constants too. Other than an inevitable sense that your team has been stitched up somewhere or other in the calendar, there has been a happy recurrence of a particular theme for Liverpool this time round, in that for the fourth year running we will face a newly promoted side on the opening day. Although it may have rival fans scrambling for their tinfoil hats, this benevolent quirk of the schedule has certainly aided Jürgen Klopp’s string of stellar starts to the season in recent years. The Reds have only lost two PL matches in total pre-Boxing Day across the last four campaigns. These blistering starts have often been the cornerstone to title challenges, successful or not, and laid the foundation for what was to come in the spring.
If Liverpool are to lift a twentieth league title in the summer of 2023, then it will likely be earned most significantly by what they do in the autumn of 2022. The tale of the team’s 2022/23 campaign will likely be forged by how they fare in the seven away games they play before the World Cup. Following the trip to Craven Cottage, the Reds face a testing run of away fixtures as they travel to Man Utd, Everton, Chelsea, Nottingham Forest and Spurs consecutively before the mid-season break. Klopp’s side will need to conjure the spirit and the form of 2019/20 because, if they can pick up at least a healthy 14 points from 18 in these games, they would surely be in pole position to go the distance.
With the relatively kind series of home fixtures in the early part of the season, it is eminently possible that Liverpool go into the winter break having won all nine of their matches at Anfield. A run that between Palace on August 13th and Southampton on November 12th consists of hosting Bournemouth, Newcastle, Wolves, Brighton, Man City, West Ham and Leeds should be seen as a succession of inherently winnable fixtures. That is, of course, with the exception of the visit of the champions.
The reason we should be aiming for a full house of home victories in this early period is twofold. Firstly, the winnability of the other 8 games as an opportunity to amass easy points in the title race, especially given the nature of the aforementioned tricky away run. Secondly, the arrival of Pep Guardiola’s men to Anfield should be seen as must-win in a very different sense. Liverpool’s fate in recent seasons can be summed up as succinctly as ‘Beat City, you win the league. If you don’t, you don’t.’ Although this is admittedly quite reductive, it remains the case that in both of the years where they pipped us to the title we failed to beat them home or away. In 2019/20, we faced them at an almost identical point in the campaign, blowing them away at Anfield, setting a marker down and gloriously causing Pep to spontaneously combust on the sidelines in the process. If we are to similarly assert our dominance this year, then this game will be pivotal to that and we must amend the missed opportunities of seasons past.
On City, considering the stories of these two sides are so intertwined, their fixture list is almost as important as ours and is thus worthy of comment. The first thing that jumps out when analysing their schedule is that, after a frustratingly kind August, there is a marked increase in difficulty for them in September and October. Over the course of a nine game stretch they host both Spurs and Man Utd, two teams with commendable records at the Etihad over recent years, while also travelling to the likes of Aston Villa, Wolves, Arsenal and Leicester either side of their trip to Anfield to face the mighty Reds. This along with a similarly difficult run around the turn of the year, can be earmarked as potential periods where points could be dropped and their title charge might hopefully come unstuck. Either way, one thing we have learned from experience is that we will have to do the business ourselves, likely yet again with previously unprecedented intensity, before we can start to look for favours elsewhere.
After seeking out the obvious dates in the calendar (opening game, the derby, United, City etc.), the eye is drawn to the final day as you visualise where and against whom the title may be lifted. The 2023 season will reach its climax with Southampton away, which is far from the most romantic of potential finales. However, we have been quite fortunate lately when it comes to final day fixtures, with five of the last six seasons finishing with straight forward home games, so our luck was bound to turn at some point.
The penultimate weekend, though, is ripe with a narrative that already seems like it could be destined to determine the champions. We host Aston Villa, Stevie’s Villa, while City are at home to Chelsea – the irony and historical context of which doesn’t need to be underlined. If there really is in fact a football god, this will surely be the weekend where City let it slip and Gerrard finally gets to witness the Premier League trophy being lifted at Anfield (although probably not in the way he imagined). For now though, and for the next few months, we can fantasise about such things, dream about what may be to come. And therein lies the beauty of Fixture Release Day.
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