With the Premier League fixtures now released, planning ahead to the 2013/14 season can begin. While the new campaign may not kick off for another 59 days, excitement levels are now beginning to rise as supporters of each respective team study their opponents and plan each three points that can be won.
We here at WhoScored.com, using our unique rating system, have since taken the opportunity to analyse every Premier League team and how they’ll fair in the opening six games of the season using each team's respective home and away rating from the 2012/13 campaign.
For example, Arsenal’s first game is the welcome of Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium, so we’ll take the Villains’ away rating (6.72) from last season. Along with the other five teams they’ll come up against - Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland, Stoke City and Swansea City - we will work out the average rating of the Gunners' opening 6 fixtures and the team with the highest average will equate to the toughest start.
Furthermore, the three newly promoted sides’ - Cardiff City, Hull City and Crystal Palace - do not have an average rating from last season, so instead should a team play one of these teams in their opening six fixtures, the average rating will be taken from the remaining five opponents.
Using this method, it is Swansea City that face the toughest start to the season. Michael Laudrup’s side begin the campaign with the welcome of defending champions Manchester United, now led by David Moyes, followed by a trip to Tottenham Hotspur. The Swans took just one point from a possible 12 against the pairing last season, while Moyes, in four meetings between himself and Swansea, has won three, while his then Everton team never conceded a goal against the Capital One Cup holders. Caution is necessary, though, as Moyes has guided his team to victory just three times in his 11 opening day Premier League encounters.
Swansea round off the opening six games of the season with trips to West Bromwich Albion and Premier League new boys Crystal Palace, whilst also hosting Liverpool and Arsenal, both of whome they failed to overcome at the Liberty Stadium last year. Laudrup may’ve won the plaudits last season as a result of the performances of his Swansea side, but it’s crucial they overcome West Brom and Palace on the road - the two manageable encounters of the six - otherwise they may find themselves in and around the relegation zone by the time October rolls around.
While Swansea will be subjected to the toughest start to the new campaign, it’s Chelsea who quickly follow suit, with Jose Mourinho expected to undergo a stern investigation in his first six games back in the Premier League. The Special One succeeded interim manager Rafael Benitez at Stamford Bridge after three tumultuous years with Real Madrid and while the Blues may have been handed an easier first fixture than most - a home tie with Hull City - it’s their three away fixtures that could throw a spanner in the works.
Travelling to Manchester United, Everton and London rivals Spurs in the opening encounters will surely test the resolve of Chelsea, while re-examining Mourinho’s management capabilities in the Premier League having spent close to six years away from English football. Of those three, only Arsenal ended the season with a higher home average rating (7.05) than United (7.03), while the trio - all of whom ended the previous campaign in the top six - all secured a home average rating above 7.0. However, there is a degree of unpredictability to both United and Everton, with the duo welcoming new managers in the form of Moyes and Martinez, respectively.
Including Mourinho, the trio make up three of five managers to have found themselves in a new job following the culmination of the 2012/13 season, with Manchester City and Stoke City appointing Manuel Pellegrini and Mark Hughes, respectively, over the summer. Of the quintet, it’s Martinez who will face the easiest start to the new season, with Everton facing just one of the last year's top six - Chelsea.
Moreover, the Toffees will face two teams that finished in the bottom half of the table last term, while also coming up against newly promoted Cardiff City on matchday three, meaning the Merseyside outfit face the second easiest start in the league - joint with West Ham United - with only Southampton enjoying an easier beginning to the campaign. The south coast club swapped managers halfway through the previous season and with a full pre-season under Mauricio Pochettino; big things are expected of Saints this year.
Away at West Brom on the first day of the season may not be the easiest of prospects, especially with the Baggies securing a monumental 3-0 win over Liverpool at the same stage last year. However, with Romelu Lukaku not set to return on loan at the time of writing, West Brom could be without one of their key players from last season for the welcome of Pochettino’s side, further bolstering Saints’ chances of securing an important win on the opening day.
Another manager set to take charge of his team for their first full season is Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio, with the Italian at the helm for the Black Cats’ final seven games of the season, picking up eight points in the process. He’ll come up against a Fulham side who may have won just one of their last six games of the 2012/13 campaign, but have kept a clean sheet in their opening game of the last four seasons. Furthermore, Sunderland will also be up against two of the top seven teams from last year - Arsenal and Liverpool - and while both encounters are at the Stadium of Light, those fixtures represent a daunting task for Di Canio at the beginning of the new season.
A poor start to the campaign will undoubtedly ramp up the pressure on the former striker, but one manager already feeling the heat before the season has begun is Newcastle United boss Alan Pardew. Following the bewildering appointment of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football at St. James’ Park, the onus is on Pardew to right his wrongs following a campaign to forget after the Magpies ended the 2012/13 season in 16th place, just five points above relegated Wigan Athletic.
Newcastle’s season could barely start harder with a trip to Manchester City awaiting the Tyneside outfit. While Pardew and his players will aim to spring an early surprise on the Citizens and newly appointed manager Pellegrini, Newcastle are yet to win a Premier League game at the Etihad Stadium, picking up just two points from a possible 27 in the previous nine meetings. Yet, following the encounter with the former champions, Pardew’s task eases somewhat, with successive home ties against West Ham and Fulham, not to mention the welcome of Hull sandwiched between a visit to Aston Villa and a tough trip to Everton rounding off their opening six fixtures of the season.
With the influx of new managers and a Premier League season without Sir Alex Ferguson - the first since its 1992 inception - awaiting, the upcoming campaign is set to be one of the most unique and enjoyable in its illustrious history.