The new Premier League season is almost upon us. But who might hit the ground running? Here’s how difficult each side’s opening schedule is.
T-minus one day. The new Premier League season is almost here.
Still making last-minute changes to your Fantasy Football team? Wondering whether your new manager has been dealt a kind hand? Is there a chance for relegated-threatened sides to bank some early points?
Well, using the Opta Power Rankings, we can quantify exactly how easy (or hard) each team’s opening schedule is.
As a reminder, these Power Rankings rate a frankly enormous number of teams (19,008 from 391 domestic leagues) across the globe based on a system that scores the current strongest side 100 and the weakest zero.
Those scores are then used to rank the teams in order of strongest to weakest.
Focusing on the Premier League, we looked at the average Opta Power Ranking of each team’s opponents to measure fixture difficulty.
These ranged from Manchester City (the number one team in the world and therefore the hardest to play against) to Luton Town (ranked 116 in the world and therefore the ‘easiest’ team to play against in England’s top flight).
Here’s how things shake up.
The Opening Five Games
The average Power Ranking of Chelsea’s opponents is 69.0, while Spurs’ is 65.4.
Chelsea open with a hard game against Liverpool before then embarking on a softer run of games against West Ham (A), Luton Town (H), Nottingham Forest (H) and Bournemouth (A). Spurs’ opening five games include two of the promoted teams in Burnley (A) and Sheffield United (H), as well as a trip to the Vitality Stadium to play Bournemouth.
Speaking of Burnley, they drew the shortest straw of them all with a clash against Manchester City on the opening day of the season. Vincent Kompany will take on his former club at Turf Moor on Friday night, before his side travel to fellow newcomers Luton. Games against Aston Villa, Tottenham and Forest give them the sixth-easiest start to the season.
Last season’s top two sides, Man City and Arsenal, also start the season with kind schedules. Arsenal assets, in particular, will prove exceptionally popular in FPL as a result.
At the other end of the scale, Newcastle have a fairly brutal start to their season. They begin with a gauntlet of Aston Villa, Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton – four teams who all qualified for Europe last season. Add Brentford into the mix and the average Power Ranking of Newcastle’s opponents in their first five games is 14.2.
To give that some context, that’s (sort of) like playing Paris Saint-Germain – who are the 15th ranked team in the world according to the Opta Power Rankings – five games back-to-back to open your campaign. They’ll have to juggle all that while playing in the Champions League, too. Tough stuff.
Bournemouth also have a very tricky opening slate. They line up against West Ham (H), Liverpool (A), Tottenham (H), Brentford (A) and Chelsea (H) to start off 2023-24. If we did the same exercise we did for Newcastle and look for the equivalent team to match their average opponents’ Rower Rankings (25.4 in this case), then we get Serie A runners-up from last season, Lazio. Ouch.
Manchester United have difficult fixtures to navigate as well. Erik ten Hag will have bad memories about his first two games in charge last season – defeats to Brighton and Brentford – and won’t have loved who the fixture computer spat out for his side in their first five. They have two testing away trips to north London to face Spurs and Arsenal, as well as playing a home game against Brighton.
Wolves – whose preparation for the campaign could hardly be going worse – get the third-hardest opening set of five matches. Gary O’Neil’s first game in charge is a trip to Old Trafford before his team host Brighton. Games against Everton (A) and Crystal Palace (A) provide little respite before a horrible away trip to Liverpool. Expect Wolves to struggle out of the gate.
The Opening 10 Games
If we expand our horizon to look at teams’ first 10 games, then a few changes occur.
Tottenham and Chelsea maintain their easy starts, as do Arsenal, but Brentford jump into second place. That’s thanks to a home game against Everton on Matchday 6, and an away game at Nottingham Forest on Matchday 7.
Everton have a similarly good run in the medium term. They’ve got the fifth-easiest schedule across the opening 10, mainly courtesy of two home games against Luton and Bournemouth in matches seven and eight. Sean Dyche’s side only just avoided relegation last term and will need to take advantage of some key fixtures in their first 10, which include comparably winnable games against Fulham (H), Wolves (H), Sheffield United (A) as well as those two previously mentioned games.
Sheffield United go from having the seventh-easiest set of opening five fixtures to having the most difficult opening 10. They face Newcastle in late September, before playing Manchester United and Arsenal consecutively at the end of October. It will be interesting to see if they panic at that point, or if they stick with manager Paul Heckingbottom.
Crystal Palace also have a difficult stretch of games in matches six to 10. Games against Man Utd, Newcastle and Spurs ensure their opening set of 10 games is the third-hardest.
The First Half of the Season
Here’s what every team’s first half of the season looks like.
The matrix below colour codes the first 19 games for every side and assigns the fixture a colour (red = hard, blue = easy) based on that opponent’s power ranking.
Fantasy Premier League managers, get scouting.