How are the Premier League Fixtures Decided and Why is an Easy Start So Important?
The dust has barely settled on the football season by the time fans of the beautiful game begin the patient waits for the following campaign’s fixtures to be announced.
Notable dates – such as the first game of the season, the Christmas/New Year fixtures, and the final contest of the campaign – are most feverishly anticipated, as are the confirmed days and times of any battles with local rivals.
So how do competitions like the Premier League decide their fixture lists?
Often, they utilize the services of external partners to ensure that the fixture list is accurate and fair and that each team plays the rest of their divisional opponents home and away with no date clashes.
The fixture compilers also have to take into consideration the schedules of the teams playing in European competitions and ensure there aren’t any fixture clashes with domestic competitions like the FA Cup.
There’s also a requirement to be as sympathetic as possible to the needs of away supporters – i.e. avoiding a team from the north of the country travelling to the south for an eight o’clock kick-off in midweek. Policing is also a factor; it’s highly unusual that a gameday will feature two local teams, such as Liverpool and Everton in Merseyside or the two Manchester clubs, playing at home on the same day.
Once all these balls have been juggled, a ‘super computer’ publishes a randomised fixture list that is free of bias – all games and their dates are decided completely at random.
As soon as the fixtures are released, fans start plotting their away days – travel, accommodation etc, while punters begin to explore the football fixtures betting odds to try and predict how the season will play out.
Up and Running
📣#PLFixtures for the 2023/24 season have arrived!
— Premier League (@premierleague) June 15, 2023
Most football fans are a passionate breed and can be firmly filed under the glass half-full or half-empty: ‘this is going to be our year’ matched by the doom-and-gloom of those who believe their team simply isn’t strong enough to compete.
Much of that pre-season optimism and pessimism will be realized or debunked during the early games of the campaign, and for that reason alone getting off to a good start is vital.
Although the Premier League season is long – each team plays 38 games across a span of eight months or so, winning early on is key to both the psychology of a football club (keeping supporters on side, maintaining stability by not sacking the manager etc) and its basic mathematics.
In around 85% of all Premier League seasons, the team that has sat top of the table at Christmas – following a strong start, most likely – goes on to win the title. That figure was skewed during the 2022/23 campaign when Arsenal failed to go on and convert their early dominance into silverware, but for the most part the importance of getting off to a good start speaks for itself.
Arsenal will be five points clear at the top of the Premier League at Christmas 🔴pic.twitter.com/SM8XOExcU0
— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 12, 2022
And research suggests that teams wishing to avoid relegation, particularly sides promoted from the Championship, also need to get off to as fast start – racking up as many of the 40 or so points required to stave off demotion as early as possible. Those that had won 12 or more points within their opening ten games had a 94% chance of staying up.
There’s that old mantra in life that hope springs eternal, but not in football it doesn’t. The fixture list can have a huge say in how – and when – the bubble of hope and optimism is popped….often within just a few weeks of the new season getting underway.
The Run In
No less a judge than Sir Alex Ferguson, who won 13 Premier League titles amongst a cabinet full of other trophies at Manchester United, once commented that the Premier League season doesn’t begin in earnest until February.
The legendary Scot was incorrect from a mathematical perspective, however, the underlying theory behind his statement – that the last few months of the season are vital in determining the make-up of the league table – remains as valid today as when he said it more than two decades ago.
As the Premier League reaches its business end, teams can lose their form – perhaps as a result of injuries, fatigue or even a quirk of a fixture list, which has left them with a series of tough opponents in the final weeks of the season.
Alternatively, a club can find strength during its run-in – maybe a new manager has come in and introduced fresh ideas and impetus, or signings made during the winter transfer window have come in and galvanized their new teammates.
There’s no doubt that the fixture list has an impact upon success and failure, and especially so during those fraught final weeks. A calculation of ‘expected points’, that is, how many points a team will accumulate based upon the relative strength of their opponents, will favor those that have an easier run of games over a rival that faces stauncher opposition – such calculations afford supporters an insight into how their campaign may unfold ahead of time.
Of course, football games always remain eleven versus eleven & the soccer field dimensions same – no super computer can put the ball in the back of the net for a struggling team, after all. But the fixture list it randomly supplies can have just as much an impact on the season as the 22 players out on the pitch.