By Brian Sears
20 June 2011
The 2011-12 Premier League season kicks off on 13 August and in the seven rounds of games up to the first international break, Aston Villa have the easiest start, followed by Chelsea and Manchester City, according to the combined strength (or lack of strength) of their opponents. By ‘strength’, sportingintelligence‘s analysis uses last season’s finishing positions to judge that.
The full breakdown is in the table below but to calculate the ease or difficulty of starts, sportingintelligence assigned each club a number based on last season’s finishing position. Hence Manchester United are 1, Chelsea 2, Manchester City 3 and so on down to Wolves being 17 – as the 17th club who survived last season and take their place for 2011-12.
QPR are 18, for being top of the Championship, Norwich 19 for being second in the Championship and Swansea 20 for making it up to the Premier League via the play-offs.
We’ve simply added up the total ‘ranking’ figures that each club will face in their first seven matches to get a ‘cushy rating’.
The theoretical maximum cushy rating would be 119, if a club played the ‘easiest’ seven teams in the first seven games. The minimum cushy total would be 28, if a team faced the ‘hardest’ seven.
Villa’s cushy ranking is a whopping 93, followed by Chelsea on 88, then City and Fulham on 85.
The smaller the number, the tougher the start. Bolton (53) have the hardest start, followed by Tottenham (54), and Swansea (59).
Villa’s average opponents in the crucial morale-boosting or morale-sapping opening phase had an average position last season just below 13th, while Bolton’s opponents had an average position not far off the European qualification places.
Villa, under Alex McLeish, will not a meet a side who finished in the top six last season in their first seven games.
Bolton will face the top four as well as sixth-placed Liverpool inside their first seven matches.
Of the promoted clubs Swansea and Norwich have ‘tough’ starts with QPR being let off lightly. Neil Warnock’s men will not meet a top six side in any of the first seven games.
In contrast Swansea’s tough start includes visits to Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea before the end of September.
A quirk of the fixture list is that Wigan face all three promoted clubs in their first the games of the season.
It goes without saying that these things will even themselves out, because every club plays every other at some stage of the season, home and away.
But a good or bad start can set the tone for a campaign. And if the table after seven matches has Villa, Chelsea and City riding high, it might not be solely because they’re performing wonderfully, rather they’ve had the relatively easier starts.
The fixture computer has thrown up all kinds of other quirks later in the season. Manchester City’s inaugural Champions League campaign, for example, will feature six group-stage matches where every single one of them is followed by an away game in the Premier League.
The six group-stage midweek dates are 13-14 Sep, 27-28 Sep, 18-19 Oct, 1-2 Nov, 22-23 Nov, 6-7 Dec – and City then go on the road domestically after each, which perhaps doesn’t augur well. Whereas Manchester United’s six Champions League games in the group stages will each be followed by a home Premier League match.
On the flip side, United’s European matches will each be preceded by an away Premier League match.
Swings and roundabouts? Or outrageous fortune? You decide.