by Fox Mulder
NOTE: After drafting this entry, Spooky enlightened me on a quite ridiculous rule that basically states that he isn't allowed to publish a premier league fixture list without paying a substantial fee. It goes something like this:
Fixtures from the four Leagues (Premier League, Football League, Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League) are copyrighted to the Leagues and again cannot be reproduced without the relevant agreement in place. The license fee for showing the Premier League fixtures on your website within a club by club order is £5,320 + VAT per season. Further fees can be identified on our website, www.football-dataco.com.
What delightful people.
So with that in mind, I hope the following makes sense to most of you.....
The other day I was flicking through the Mirror's fixtures pull-out and performing the annual ritual of working out where our good runs might happen, checking when we've got the goons and Chelsea, seeing which away games I could make it to, how many points I expect us to have by Xmas etc. You know the drill.
But this year I found myself doing something totally alien yet pleasantly exciting (matron!)
A glance across the page showed the schedule of Champions League fixtures for 2010/11.
Apologies if this is massively tempting fate and jumping the gun a little. But by christ this world cup has been pretty depressing so far. Not least because I'm living in Ibiza with my girlfriend at the moment and she won't let me watch all the games. "This is supposed to be my break from football" she decries, happily drowned out by the monotonous drones of 60,000 vuvuzelas.
Anyway, SUPPOSING we make it through the qualifiers, here's our fixture list intertwined with the Champions League group stage fixtures (i've stopped short of the knock-out rounds - if we get that far you won't need me to spell out the fixtures for you):
14 The team from Manchester that aren't as good as the other ones (H)
17/18 CL play-off 1st leg
21 Long-throw merchants that play in red and white (A)
24/25 CL play-off 2nd leg
28 We beat them 9-1 (H)
11 Not East Bromwich (A)
14/15 Group matchday 1
18 West Midlands dog-like creatures (H)
25 Dirty East End Pikeys (A)
28/29 Group matchday 2
2 Claret and Blue Brummies (H)
16 Formely Harrods FC (A)
19/20 Group matchday 3
23 Scousers that play in Blue (H)
30 The team from Manchester that are better than the other ones (A)
2/3 Group matchday 4
6 Notlob (A)
9 Darren Bent and his new mates (H)
13 Dull Northern team managed by a fat bloke with delusions of grandeur, initials S.A. (H)
20 Trophyless foreign team based off Holloway Road (A)
23/24 Group matchday 5
27 Scousers that play in red (H)
4 Brummies that play in Blue (A)
07/08 Group matchday 6
11 Double-winning scum (H)
You often hear Fergie/Rafa/Arsene moaning about how they have a tricky away game after a champions league match blah blah blah so how does it pan out for us?
First the play-offs:
Stoke away after the first play-off leg having played man city only a week before - very tricky baptism of fire stuff.
Wigan at home after the second leg - a bit easier but will be the 5th game in 14 days, although you'd hope a few of the league games will get shunted back a day or so to accomodate.
Then (hopefully) onto the group stages:
Game 1 - followed by Wolves Home - about as kind as it could get provided we take them a little more seriously this time!
Game 2 - Villa Home - thankfully another homer but villa will be hard. hopefully they'll have also played in europe that week
Game 3 - Everton Home - Another home game? The gods are smiling. Although Everton are another very tough and physical side to play after midweek european exploits
Game 4 - Bolton Away - well we never win there anyway and won't be fun if the lads have just flown back from somewhere like Russia
Game 5 - Liverpool Home - hopefully we'll turn them over again but the fact we have Arsenal away 7 days previous may take it's toll on the players. I guess it depends on if they decide to revel in the succession of massive games or shrink like Frank Lampard in an international tournament.
Game 6 - Chelsea Home - another massive test but a lot will depend on whether we've long been knocked out/qualified from our group or if it goes down to the final game.
So presumption aplenty then.
5 home games following midweek Euro exploits and an away trip to an average side. Sounds good on paper. It's enough to get Ol' Red Nose's cheeks a burning. But then consider that 4 of those teams are all rivals to the top 4 places this season.
But what is plainly obvious is that dining at European football's top table may leave us with a little bit of indigestion when it comes to the bread and butter of league football and trying to equal/better that fourth spot. Obviously we can't truly judge the fixtures until we know who we might play and where, but it doesn't take a genius to see that we are going to need to add a lot more real strength in depth to the squad in key areas.
RIP the Carling Cup...