There isn’t usually much to write about with the unveiling of the fixture list. The only real questions for a club like Chelsea are how easy the Christmas period and the run-in will be and in the case of the 2013-14 season, ‘relatively easy’ is the answer. Our matches against title and top four rivals all look nicely spread out as well – there isn’t a single month you could pick out as a potential season-ruiner.
A lot of football writers like to dismiss the importance of opening fixtures with mantras and proverbs like the season is “a marathon and not a sprint” or tedious reminders that everybody plays each other twice in the end. In this day and age however and especially in England, new managers are judged immediately and the results of their first few matches are what the foundations of their relationship with the players, fans and media will rest upon for some time. And with the top three English clubs all with new management, the opening few rounds of the season could be more crucial than ever before.
When Manchester Utd lost to Everton on Match-day 1 last year, nobody really questioned Ferguson or thought his side would struggle to compete. But if David Moyes fails to win away at Swansea and then loses at home to Mourinho’s Chelsea the week after, with the Manchester and North-West derbies fast approaching his season could enter damage limitation mode before it even has a chance to begin. Alternatively, if he can make it through August and September unbeaten, then his appointment will look like one final masterstroke from Ferguson and Utd’s status as favourites will be well and truly established. There’s no question Moyes has the most to gain and lose in terms of respect and reputation over the first few weeks. Even if he does suffer a bad start he knows he has the squad to get back into the title race; but Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho aren’t the sort of coaches whom you want to give breathing space.
Key Chelsea Dates
– 17th August: Mourinho begins his second stint at Chelsea the same way Carlo Ancelotti began his first, with a home league game against Hull City. Hopefully he won’t need the fluky last minute winner the Italian needed to seal the victory.
– 24th August: An early trip to Old Trafford, the result of which has the potential to set an early tone for both side’s campaigns.
– 28th September & 8th March: The two biggest games of Andre Villas-Boas’ league season as he takes on the man whom he used to compile scout reports for. The Spurs coach only ever seems to have good things to say about Jose, but after TSO reportedly warned Chelsea against hiring his former protégé in 2011, AVB must surely be desperate to pick up a win.
– (9th Nov & 11th Feb) and (28th Dec & 26th April): Mourinho takes on two more of his ex-staff in Steve Clarke and Brendan Rogers, the first of whom was crucial (according to Mourinho) to his league wins at Chelsea in 05 and 06 and has done a great job grooming Romelu Lukaku for use at Chelsea this year. Our second meeting with Rogers’ Liverpool will be game 36 of the season; if we’re top of league at that point, only Norwich and Cardiff will be standing between Mourinho and his third PL trophy.