It’s that time of the summer when football fans and armchair pundits across the globe eagerly simulate the upcoming Premier League season – from week 1 to 38, analyzing and evaluating each and every fixture from the fixture list that’s just released, almost a month and a half before the actual drama unfolds. As is the case with every season, there’s always a select few games that pop out of the list that come with an innate significance ingrained in them for various reasons ranging from geographical divide to the common bitterness you get to witness between supporters of two sides sparked by a few individuals to an inexplicable acrimony that has always existed between certain teams and fans, with history playing a role in those.
Here in this piece, we will be looking at some of the eagerly anticipated match-ups in the season ahead by supporters and neutrals alike which make the English Premier League what it is. (Hint: You will bump into a few usual suspects, I’m afraid).
10. Bournemouth v Southampton (March 1)
Stakes will be raised in the South Coast when newly promoted Bournemouth will take on neighbors Southampton which will mark the birth of a new rivalry in the Premier League stoking the fiery expectations of the fans like never before. All the more so for Bournemouth supporters as this will be the first time since 1960, the two neighboring sides will find themselves in the same division while for Bournemouth this is their first in the top flight.
9. Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur (March 12)
Ooh the Sherwood derby. After losing his job despite managing an impressive win ratio (yes, he did) at White Hart Lane, Sherwood took over a side that was experiencing nothing but a freefall under Paul Lambert crying out for a change in the mentality as much as the playing style and boy did he deliver. Not only did he make Cleverley score 3 goals in 3 successive games but also he managed to take Aston Villa to the cup final in Wembley in such a short managerial span. Going by Sherwood’s infectious desire to settle the score, this is definitely going to be a cracker.
8. Stoke City v Arsenal (Jan 16)
Often cited as the game that pits two completely unlike playing styles together, brute v beauty if you will, the common consensus is that Stoke City are invariably at their very best when Arsenal come to town. This was gloriously illustrated last season when Arsenal found themselves three goals down in the first half only to forge a late fightback and eventually lose on a narrow margin. It will be interesting to see how Arsene Wenger solves this long running conundrum in the upcoming season with more experience and armor under his belt.
7. West Ham United v Newcastle United
Not many people must be aware of the cold war between Newcastle boss Steve McLaren who was managing England in the Euro 2008 Qualifying Rounds and Slaven Bilic, the then Croatia boss who made sure England did not make it to the finals of the showpiece event held in Austria-Switzerland, seven years ago. Steve ‘the wally with the brolly’ McLaren should be foolish to let this chance to get one back over the Croatian pass, thereby making sure there are no brollies in either dug-out.
6. Manchester United v Chelsea (Dec 28)
Louis Van Gaal will be readying his troops following an usually arduous Boxing Day trip to Stoke to face reigning Champions Chelsea within the next 48 hours in what promises to be a titanic encounter all the more so considering the timing of the fixture. Jose Mourinho, having worked under Louis Van Gaal when the current Man United manager oversaw proceedings at the Nou Camp, would relish to add another win to a brilliant record he has managed to create at Old Trafford and against United in general, as Chelsea boss (0 defeats in 14 meetings). With Falcao set to make a move to the London club on an year-long loan deal, his imminent return wearing Chelsea colors can only spice things up at Old Trafford.
5. Newcastle v Sunderland (March 19)
A game that needs little introduction as the two North East rivals will lock horns again in a game that’s been dominated by one side in recent fixtures. A left footed volley from Jermain Defoe gave Sunderland their fifth win in succession against their nearest foes ensuring the wear side’s recent local supremacy. Alan Pardew whilst he was at Newcastle United managed to lose 4 consecutive Tyne-Wear derbies holding the dubious record for the most consecutive losses to Sunderland as Newcastle manager, a worrying rot that Steve McLaren will want to arrest.
4. Manchester United v Manchester City (Oct 24)
After the league title was shifted from Old Trafford to Etihad twice back and forth, contributing to a four year asylum in Manchester, Mourinho’s Chelsea took the initiative to win it back, leaving the two Manchester clubs in their wake highlighting the work that needs to be done in the transfer market to close the gap between themselves and the reigning champions. Arguably the most watched derby in the Premier League in the last five years, thanks to the increasing relevance of City and their emergence in the domestic scene, it looks like the Manchester derby can only get more bitter by the day.
3. Liverpool v Manchester United (Jan 16)
Still, the biggest game in the Premier League calendar in my eyes, it is never not electric when Liverpool take on Manchester United in a game where spine-tingling history, tradition and most importantly bragging rights are on the line besides the obvious three points. Arguably the most unpredictable big game in the league, but it was Van Gaal’s Manchester United that did the double against Liverpool, who, did the double themselves the season before. As form usually goes out of the window during these games, it is going to be one hell of an encounter when Anfield will prepare for Manchester United’s visit in January 2016.
2. Chelsea v Manchester City (April 16)
In what could be a potential title decider at Stamford Bridge when the two strongest squads in the league face each other in the business end of the season, this game has all the elements to either go completely bonkers where Ivanovic could end up scoring a hat-trick in ten minutes or a cagey and cautious 1-1 which would prolong the title race a touch further. Although most of what could happen depends on the their league positions in April, this fixture promises to be a gripping encounter.
1. Arsenal v Chelsea (Jan 23)
Jose Mourinho’s return to the Premier League has somewhat rekindled the acrimony that has existed for some time between Arsenal and Chelsea for obvious reasons. Two very differently run clubs managed by two managers with different ideologies based in the same city can only result in hatred and suspicion which is proven with Arsenal and Chelsea. While last campaign’s 0-0 was a game to forget for Arsenal fans and the neutrals, this season should provide all the narrative (Cesc Fabregas, Cech etc) when Mourinho and Arsene Wenger lock horns and in some ways highlight how far the Gunners have come from being also-rans in the league for almost a decade now. Can Wenger finally break the duck against Jose?
As always, only time will tell.