by David Fleenor – The Premier League announced the 2015/16 Premier League fixture list (known as the schedule here in the U.S.) and after exhaustively reviewing the match-ups, 365.WSS has finalized the Top 10 List of Must Watch EPL Matches in 2015/16.
Honorable Mention: West Ham vs Leicester City (August 15) – West Ham had a fast start and faded last season while Leicester City started slowly but won 7 of their last 9 games last season. City’s run started with a 2-1 win over the Hammers. Can an early win help the Foxes avoid a late season relegation battle? Swansea City v Manchester United (August 29) – Swansea shocked Man U on opening day last season and completed their first double over the Red Devils later in the season. Can Louis van Gaal’s men get revenge? Jose Mourinho vs Arsene Wenger (September 19) – The managers of Chelsea and Arsenal will not be the difference on the field but they frequently get the headlines the day after the match. Manchester United v Manchester City (October 24) – The Manchester Derby is fierce and with both teams having title aspirations the first meeting at Old Trafford could be a classic. Southampton vs Tottenham (December 19) – Southampton and Tottenham are both eager to push their way into the top 4 and earn a Champions League berth. They both have to hold their own against the title contenders but who has the better chance could come down to how the fare against one another.
And the Top 10 is…
#10 – Promoted Teams’ Opening Day Matches (August 8)
The challenge for the 3 teams promoted to the Premier League from the English championship are daunting. The teams quickly go from being the mighty to minnows. Leicester City, Burnley, and Queens Park Rangers earned the promotion to the EPL for the 2014/15 campaign and Burnley and QPR were immediately relegated while Leicester required a late season ‘great escape’ to hold their Premier League status.
The opening day fixtures involving promoted teams this season are:
AFC Bournemouth v Aston Villa
Everton v Watford
Norwich City v Crystal Palace
A good start will be a huge boost to staying in the top division but even with other results the odds are not too bad for a team to stay up. Since the start of the Premier League, 65 teams have been promoted from the Championship and 29 (45%) were relegated following their inaugural season so AFC Bournemouth, Watford, and Norwich City are almost 50/50 to be back next season.
* – There has only been 1 season since the start of the Premier League that all 3 promoted sides were immediately relegated. The 1997/98 campaign saw Barnsley, Bolton Wanderers and Crystal Palace promoted but none could beat the odds.
#9 – Champion Contenders (August 8)
It is fun to keep an eye on the new teams but the league is all about winning the trophy. And a good start (non-losing start) to the season is a huge boost to the campaign. The Premier League era has only seen 1 team lose their opening day match and go on to win the title. It should come as no surprise that the league’s all-time best team, Manchester United, was that team. The surprising fact is that the Red Devils have done it on 3 occasions, 1992/93, 1995/96 and 2012/13.
The fixtures involving potential league winners (sorry Liverpool and all you other pretenders):
Arsenal v West Ham United
Chelsea v Swansea City
Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City
#8 – Liverpool vs AFC Bournemouth (August 15)
Liverpool said their long good-bye to Steven Gerrard last season but it will another emotional day at Anfield when the Reds take the field for the first time without Stevie G on the game day roster. Once the team is on the field, Brendan Rodgers won’t be giving Gerrard a second thought as his main concern will be making sure Anfield is a fortress and reliable for 3 points each outing as the Liverpool have arguable the toughest road start for any team with consecutive road matches against Stoke City (who beat them 6-1 in last season’s finale), Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City. Gerrard will be suited up on August 15 as well but his road test will not be as difficult with the LA Galaxy travelling to Toyota Stadium to face FC Dallas.
#7 – All AFC Bournemouth Matches
It’s easy to love the underdog and while all promoted sides adopt this tag, AFC Bournemouth is the underdog of all underdogs. The Cherries will be playing in the Premier League for the 1st time in the club’s 125 history. The climb to the top has been done in impressive style after they narrowly avoided relegation from the Football League back in 2008/09, a challenging season after being assessed a 17-point deduction for financial problems. Since that season they have been promoted to the English First Division in 2009/10, earned their promotion to the Championship in 2012/13, and then to the Premier League. Manager Eddie Howe has been at the helm through the good and bad and will have his side ready.
#6 – Christmas Curse (Boxing Day Matches, December 26)
There is no cheer at Christmas for the team at the bottom of the Premier League table so every team will be playing to avoid taking that ignominious title. Since the Premier League started only 3 teams stuck at the bottom at Christmas have survived relegation. The 3 ‘Great Escapes’ were Leicester City’s reversal of fortunes last season, Sunderland’s bounce back in 2013/14, and the inaugural Houdini act by West Bromwich Albion in 2004/05. Who will be in survival mode even before the turn of the year?
#5 – Sunderland vs Newcastle (October 24)
The Tyne-Wear Derby, also known as the North East derby, between Sunderland and Newcastle is important every year but could take on additional importance this season as both teams struggled and had relegation concerns last season. For all the good Alan Pardew did for the Geordies he lost 4 consecutive derby matches and John Carver could do no better in his short stint as manager so the challenge for Steve McLaren is reversing this run of form and doing in front of the hostile fans at The Stadium of Light.
#4 – Everton vs Liverpool (October 3)
Neither Liverpool not Everton lived up to expectations last season and many pundits feel Brendan Rodgers and to a lesser extent Roberto Martinez were lucky to keep the jobs. A new season and a clean slate will give both sides optimism but the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park could be the telling moment if last season’s results were a fluke. The home side will have additional pressures as they have not won a Merseyside derby since October 2010.
#3 – Manchester United vs Chelsea (December 28)
Managers, especially foreign managers, hate the busy holiday period and the Red Devils Louis van Gaal and Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho were no doubt cussing up a storm when they saw this match-up. If the Red Devils want to reclaim the title is will most likely require a winning showing against the holders at Old Trafford.
#2 – Manchester City vs Chelsea (August 15)
Bam! The 2015/16 campaign wastes no time getting to the ‘meat’ of the schedule (to steal a term from our British friend). The 2nd week of the season features last season’s winner, Chelsea, hitting the road to visit the Etihad and face last season’s runner-up, Manchester City. This could be a telling match with one side getting the valuable momentum while the other hits a tailspin.
#1 – Manchester City vs Arsenal (May 7)
Manchester City and Arsenal are Chelsea’s top challengers and since the Blues will have a target on their back and no team has repeated as champions in 7 years the match at the Etihad could determine the champion. The Citizens are aiming to win their 3rd title in 5 years and Arsenal are hoping to win their first Premier League title since 2003/04 giving this an for-all-the-marbles feel even before the first ball is kicked.
What do you think about the Top 20 Premier League Matches To Watch in 2015/16? What games should have been included on the list?
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