As the new Premier League season approaches, we take a look at the opening matches on the fixture list to gauge which teams have been handed the toughest starts, as well as those who appear to have been dealt a favourable hand.
To attempt to establish the difficulty of each side's start to the 2012/13 campaign we have used WhoScored's team ratings from the previous season to analyse those who should be looking to get off to a good start and those who may struggle.
To get a more accurate understanding we have taken an opponents rating based on whether they are playing at home or away. For example, Arsenal open their campaign at home to Sunderland, so we take O'Neill's side's away rating. Once the average ratings of each opponent were collected for every team's first six matches we calculated the average of those ratings, with the highest averages equating to the toughest starts.
The three newly promoted sides (Southampton, Reading and West Ham) do not have an average rating from the previous season and were not assigned one, so if a side plays one of said teams in their opening fixtures, the average rating was taken from the remaining five opponents etc.
In for a Rough Ride?
According to our average opponent ratings, Mark Hughes' QPR may well have a tough time of it when the season reopens later in the month. They begin the campaign against Swansea at home, and though the Welsh outfit were superior at their own ground last season, they put in some admirable performances on the road.
A tough trip to Norwich follows, before their schedule really begins to look daunting, facing away trips to champions Man City and Tottenham, with what will surely be a heated west London derby at home to Chelsea in between. With that in mind, a win at home on the opening day and result at Carrow Road could be important early on, with West Ham at home potentially offering some lighter relief in round 6.
Newly promoted Southampton will really be up against it in August and September, and manager Nigel Adkins will need to work wonders to enter October with a respectable points tally. They couldn't have asked for a harder start, travelling to The Etihad, before what they will see as a very winnable home fixture against Wigan.
However, after that it all begins to look a bit bleak again, hosting Man United before a trip to the capital, and Arsenal. Home games will be key, as they are for any newcomers to the league, so a game against Villa at St. Mary's is one that they will be looking for points from before a trip to Goodison Park, where Everton picked up 10 of their 15 wins last season.
Like the Saints, Liverpool have the undesirable task of facing last season's top three (City, United and Arsenal) in their first five fixtures, with new manager Brendan Rodgers needing to impress the locals. To make matters worse, he must try to do so in front of the home faithful in the aforementioned trio of fixtures, in what some might describe as the definition of a baptism of fire at Anfield.
The Reds open the season away at the Hawthorns, where former assistant Steve Clarke will take charge of his first game for West Brom, with difficult visits to Sunderland and Norwich to fit in before October. One could suggest that if they are in the top half by that point, Rodgers may well have done a decent job.
In stark comparison to the man he replaced as Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup couldn't have asked for much more in terms of a favourable opening to the campaign. The side that almost became every Premier League fans' second team under Rodgers last season will begin their second successive term in England's top flight at QPR before hosting newly promoted West Ham first up at the Liberty Stadium.
Another home game against Sunderland follows, before a trip to Villa Park, where Paul Lambert inherits a side who won just 4 home games last season. Arguably their toughest match in the first two months comes against Everton, who finished 7th last season, though they again play at home, before an admittedly uncompromising away day at the Britannia.
Newly appointed, permanent Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo also swerves the big clubs to start, before a trip to the Emirates in gameweek 6. Before then the Blues travel to Wigan on the opening day, before consecutive home games against Reading and last season's surprise package Newcastle.
The short trip to Loftus Road comes next, before hosting Stoke, who lost 11 games on their travels last season on the way to a WhoScored Premier League-low team rating of just 6.25 away from the Britannia. With all that in mind they will hope to go into the game with Arsenal right in the thick of it at the top of the pile, and with a number of exciting summer signings in place, the West Londoners will be raring to go.
Another newly appointed manager who has been handed a decent start to the campaign is Aston Villa's Paul Lambert. The Midlands club will be looking to put a miserable season behind them with a win at West Ham on the opening day, as they did in a 3-0 win in 2009/10, though the game was played at Villa Park on that occasion.
They then have a tough task at home to Everton before a trip up north to Newcastle. A home game against Swansea follows before facing Southampton and ending September with a derby, hosting West Brom. The Villans, along with the aforementioned Swansea and West Ham, are one of only three sides to avoid last season's top 4 in the opening 6 games.