Stag’s Take – Premier League fixtures release
There was just 32 days between the curtain falling on last season’s Premier League action and the first drips of news about the late summer return of football in England’s top tier. The fixtures for the coming season have been released mere days after some of Europe’s leading players took their leave after the end of the Nations League. Before the fixtures released today come around, we have a Copa America, African Cup of Nations and the usual pre-season tours of the world to contend with, but that won’t stop the FPL diehards brushing the thin layer of dust off their spreadsheets and jotters and beginning to plan for 2019/20.
This article has humble ambitions given that as yet we do not have prices, positions, or even a release date for next season’s FPL game as it stands. This piece instead hopes to highlight the teams with promising early runs of fixtures and how that may affect the composition of our Gameweek 1 squads.
I have intentionally focused on the first five gameweeks in this article as that is when the vast majority of “successful” managers play their first Wildcard. Last season, the week leading into Gameweek 5 was the peak for its deployment by the eventual Top 10k at the end of the season (21.9%). 41% of the Top 10K had played their Wildcard by the kick-off of Gameweek 5; half had played it by the start of Gameweek Six. Interestingly, just after Gameweek 8 was the second-most popular time to play the first Wildcard (10.0%). Logic tells you that between unexpected starting XIs and benchwarmers, varying form and injuries, managers will usually be unable to draft a long-term plan ahead of Gameweek 1. The FPL statistics bear this out and as such this article will focus primarily on the first five games of the season.
Note: The first international break split Gameweeks 3 and 4, which was a little earlier than we are used to. The second international break was between Gameweeks 7 and 8. That indicates that last season, managers who reacted to the gameweek which followed the early international breaks by using their wildcards tended to prosper.
Who has most promising early fixtures?
Everton: cry || WAT || avl || WOL || bou ||
Mirroring an inviting early schedule from last term, Everton have the nicest early fixtures of all. They are actually the only team in the division who dodge an encounter with any of the league’s Top Six sides as far as Gameweek 6. That fixture at home to Sheffield United may be the time many earmark as a good point to end a “triple up” on Everton assets ahead of Manchester City’s arrival at Goodison. However, Everton do actually have a relatively straightforward run subsequent to the City game right up to Gameweek 15. They take on five of last year’s bottom half of the table plus two promoted teams (Villa and Sheffield) by then. The Toffees pay for their promising early games with a punishing run through the festive period, where they face five of the Top Six (no Liverpool) in a gruelling month where they are scheduled to play eight PL fixtures.
Brighton: wat || WHU || SOU || mci || BUR
Duffy-gate aside, Brighton have generally been FPL fan-favourites since they arrived in the Premier League in 2017 under Chris Hughton. Of course, Hughton has now departed the club and been replaced by Graham Potter. Potter’s ascent has been a magical tale taking him from the lower tiers of Swedish football to the Europa League, Swansea and now the Premier League but it remains to be seen what changes he will make at Albion to deploy his possession-focused fairly attacking system.
If we trust Brighton by August then a run of games against Man City, bottom half known-quantities and Watford, look quite good.
West Ham: MCI || bha || wat || NOR || avl ||
West Ham’s opening game against none other than the champions completely obfuscates an-otherwise promising first five games of the season which includes meetings with two of the promoted clubs. The Hammers are one of four clubs who face two promoted sides in their first five fixtures (Bournemouth, Chelsea, Crystal Palace) though in my subjective opinion, their run of five games is marginally better than the Cherries’ schedule and lightyears ahead of the other London clubs’ calendar.
Bournemouth: SHU || avl || MCI || lei || EVE ||
The Cherries first two fixtures ensure that the likes of Callum Wilson will feature prominently in Gameweek 1 drafts from the off, and rightly so. However, that visit of Man City, which is usually a painful one for Eddie Howe’s side, should put the brakes on Bournemouth potentially leading the PL after two gameweeks. I am already pessimistic about the Cherries’ subsequent clashes with the two sides vying to topple the Top Six’s hegemony, but a team facing the newcomers, especially one as popular as Bournemouth, cannot be completely ignored.
Liverpool and Man City: Easy fixtures for two teams that find almost every game easy
It’s almost a joke that the league’s best two teams should start the season as they finished it, winning every game they play without an issue. City undoubtedly have the better fixtures of the two, facing just one Top Six side in the first 11 gameweeks of the season. Liverpool’s route to Gameweek 11 includes hosting Arsenal and Spurs as well as visits to Stamford Bridge at Old Trafford. Aside from facing Leicester at Anfield in Gameweek 8, all the rest of The Reds’ games are against promoted sides and teams which finished in the bottom half of the table.
Going into excruciating detail on either of these sides’ fixtures seems like a fool’s errand for this writer. At the end of the day (unless something dramatically changes) everyone should expect to double or triple up on players from both sides as they have proved themselves to be fixture proof.
As an aside…
Notably, ten teams face just one Top Six team in their first five games of the season. The August-September period of the season sees a
controlled coincidentally low number of clashes between Top Six sides; in fact, there is just one per week. Interesting. That will be useful for audiences prioritising their viewing plans, but it will also make FPL planning a little easier as there will only be one incidence per gameweek where both sets of players in a fixture have a tough game (on paper).
Who has the most difficult early fixtures?
Sometimes, a Premier League season can be all about momentum. Without an early impetus or an injection of belief, a team’s season can fray at the seams before it has even had a chance to get going. If this holds true, Newcastle United and Norwich City may face uphill struggles for survival. They are the only two sides who must tackle three Top Six sides in the first five gameweeks.
Newcastle: ARS || nor || tot || WAT || liv ||
Norwich: liv || NEW || CHE || whu || MCI ||
Of the Top Six, the North London pair have the toughest introduction to 2018/19. Arsenal’s opening two fixtures (new, BUR) is arguably second-best in the division to Bournemouth, however they take a downward turn in GW3 when the travel to Anfield and that is followed by Spurs rolling into the Emirates in GW4. Spurs, on the other hand, get a nice aperitif at home to Villa before visiting City. Newcastle, hopefully with Kylian Mbappe (I’m only half-joking), host the Champions League finalists in GW3 ahead of the NLD in GW4. It is unlikely that many GW1 drafts will feature more than one player from either of these sides.
External forces which will affect GW1 selections (Season kicks off Friday August 9)
Copa América (14 June – 7 July) [Note: Japan & Qatar are competing in this ¯\_(ツ)_/¯]
Concacaf Gold Cup (15 June – 7 July)
African Cup of Nations (21 June – 19 July)
European U-21 Championship (16 – 30 June)
*There are probably other tournaments this summer but these are the ones I feel will most affect PL players’ returns for pre-season.
Europa League qualifying [Wolves feature from the second qualifying round, Man Utd start in groups]
25 July & August 1 – Second Qualifying Round
August 8 & August 15 – Third Qualifying Round
August 22 & August 29 – Play-off Round
Charity Shield: Manchester City v Liverpool (August 4 – weekend before GW1)
European Super Cup: Liverpool v Chelsea (August 14 – between GW1 and GW2)
Thanks for reading, guys. It’s great to be back!
I’ll be posting up quite a few pieces over the course of the pre-season including an FPL launch post considering the new prices and positions, season previews (the Rotoworld team will publish articles on all 20 teams), and maybe one or two extra bonus pieces.
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.