By Tony Attwood
There was a lot of comment when the fixtures came out for the coming season over the fact that we start with Manchester City at home and then have Chelsea away.
That seems a little curious but could of course just be the way the fixtures came out of the hat.
However hats, or even computers, can’t really explain what happens in the rest of the season: it really does look like these days the fixture list is utterly, well, fixed. Either for the benefit of certain teams or for the benefit of the TV companies and their demands.
Here’s how it runs
After the Manchester City and Chelsea fixtures we go eight games without playing any of the teams who ended up above us. Now those teams that finished the league in positions one to five represent 25% of the league in total and so we should be playing them once in every four games. But none of them will be seen for eight successive matches.
Then at the start of December we get two such fixtures in four days. Tottenham at home and Manchester United away. But that is not all for December for in that month we also get Liverpool away. Three fixtures out of the ten against those who finished above us last year – all in the same month.
After finishing December with the Liverpool game we then get another curious anomaly – three London derbies in a row: Fulham, West Ham and Chelsea.
Yet another double header of successive matches against the top five from last season turns up at the start of March with Tottenham away and Manchester United at home in successive games.
Then we finish the season with eight games in a row without any of the top five from last season involved.
The chances of such bunching appearing, followed by these runs is very low indeed, and the most likely reason for it is that the fixture setters at the Premier League are not totally led by the top live TV sponsors (Sky TV and BT Sprout) in determining fixtures.
Of course beyond the fixtures themselves I have no evidence of this, and the fixtures are merely evidence that a set of highly unlikely dates have come up, and nothing more.
But I suspect a more likely explanation is this:
The TV companies know exactly when the highest audiences are, and so aim to put matches that attract a lot of attention at those times, in order to attract the highest audiences.
Likewise the TV companies will have a view as to who will be in the running for the title in the last month or so and so arrange matches that will encourage a large audience. This past season with Manchester City obvious winners of the league with over six weeks to go, audience figures went down because there were no games that could be seen as matches that could determine the outcome of the league.
Further, by bunching “big” matches next to each other I think the TV companies are hoping to generate excitement and help to take their audience figures up a bit after years of decline.
Meanwhile in the transfer doings for the Premier League Chelsea have still not bought anyone and just released one player, exactly the same as Tottenham. Manchester City have bought no one either. Is anyone congratulating Arsenal on getting the job done early?
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