Breaking Down Manchester City's 2013/14 Premier League Schedule
Manchester City's Premier League fixture list has been released, leaving us to speculate on how things will pan out. Manuel Pellegrini now knows when and where he'll face his first challenges as a manager in the English game.
For a full list of City's Premier League matchups, check out their club website. Then move on in this slideshow to get an analysis of how City should fare. It will investigate the big matches, tough stretches and other considerations.
The Early Season
At least the first four fixtures here present a relatively easy opening stretch of the season. Getting to face two newly-promoted teams, one that was nearly relegated last year and a team whose number they've had in recent matches is an encouraging start.
Newcastle were incredibly disappointing last year, dropping from a Europa League berth to within five points of relegation. Hopefully for Alan Pardew's sake, he can get his men turned around for a better season, but facing City at the Etihad in the opener is not the start they will have wanted.
Two Premier League newcomers feature next for City, as they get the honor of being Cardiff City's first Premier League home opponent. The atmosphere in Wales' capital city is sure to be lively, and could provide a tough test, but City might be too strong for the Bluebirds.
Hull City make a return to the Premier League as well, and get an early trip to Manchester as their reward. The Citizens faced a similar task last year with an early visit from Southampton, which they won 3-2. They'll certainly think they can get a similar result here.
Then comes the trip to the Britannia Stadium to face Stoke City. The corresponding match last year finished 1-1, while City beat the Potters 3-0 at home. They've also defeated them twice in FA Cup play in the last three seasons.
Of course, the schedulers at Premier League headquarters had to give City an early test. They gave City a chance to host the Manchester derby, where they get their first crack at revenge for losing the title to their bitter rivals.
City fans will surely still have images of the home derby loss last December, where Robin van Persie's deflected stoppage-time free kick denied City a point. They'd get some redemption with a win at Old Trafford in April, but it was too little too late for their title hopes.
City should be motivated to go out there and stake an early claim to regaining the Premier League title. With a derby match providing the only big test, anything less than 13 points from these five matches would be disappointing.
Keep in mind that the Champions League group stage will kick off between the Stoke and United matches. This will be Pellegrini's first big curveball as he determines the best way to rotate his squad to keep players fit for both competitions.
The Midseason Scramble
Around the turn of the calendar year is when the Premier League schedule gets really congested. In the five-week stretch detailed here, City get eight league matches plus the last round of the Champions League group stage.
Included in this are three midweek games in domestic play. These are a Tuesday match at the Hawthorns, the Boxing Day (Thursday) home match against Liverpool, and a New Year's Day (Wednesday) trip to Swansea.
The last two seasons have seen this stretch deliver City it's first loss of the season both times. The derby loss did it last season, while a loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge stopped City's unbeaten run in the title campaign.
Perhaps a minor relief for City fans is that Sunderland is not involved in this part of the schedule. The Black Cats picked up 1-0 wins at the Stadium of Light both seasons, further halting the momentum of City's title pushes.
Perhaps the strangest part of the schedule this year is facing Swansea twice in such a short span—once at home and once away. Michael Laudrup's side are a tricky opponent, but maybe seeing them twice will see Pellegrini make necessary adjustments quickly.
This part of the schedule also throws up several other tough encounters as Arsenal and Liverpool visit the Etihad. Both of these games being at home ought to give City a bit of an advantage, but against the stronger teams it is not just a formality to get all six points.
Still, it stands to reason that they should be expected to do just that. Points could possibly be dropped in the road matches against West Brom and Swansea, but beyond that it is hard to see City not winning these matches.
Put the estimate at 20 points (two draws).
Clashes of the Titans
Matches against last season's top five: Manchester United (Home, Sept. 21; Away, March 1), Chelsea (Away, Oct. 26; Home, Feb. 1), Tottenham (Home, Nov. 23; Away, Jan. 29), Arsenal (Home, Dec. 14; Away, March 29)
The days City fans will have their eyes on are the ones against the closest title rivals. These are the teams best equipped to challenge for the silverware, and the ones that will likely give City the most trouble.
The Manchester Derby has favored City just a bit recently, with the "noisy neighbors" winning three of the last four. This includes the 6-1 win at Old Trafford and the 1-0 reverse fixture that put City back on top late that season. Both Pellegrini and David Moyes get an early first look at this heated rivalry.
Chelsea, as mentioned before, halted City's unbeaten run in 2011/12 with a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge, and with Jose Mourinho back at the helm, perhaps the Blues will be sparked into new life to add to their European success with a domestic title.
Tottenham will provide a stiff test as usual, especially if they manage to hold on to Gareth Bale. Andre Villas-Boas—who himself recently quashed exit speculation—will be looking to get his side back in the Champions League after two straight narrow misses.
Arsenal are still perennial top-four contenders, even if they haven't won anything in the last eight seasons. But they're looking to beef up their squad with Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain as a top target, an addition that will surely be a great one.
There are a lot of factors at play here, with three new managers and a lot of player movement in and out of these squads—and surely more to come. For example, City have countered United's signing of pacy winger Wilfried Zaha with the addition of Jesus Navas.
Overall, City would hope to win all four of the home matches. More importantly, getting points in the away matches will be key to keeping up a title run. It will be a tough run, but pulling 18 out of 24 (one road win, three draws) will prove a fantastic haul.
The Final Stretch
Last five fixtures: Liverpool (Away), West Brom (Home), Crystal Palace (Away), Everton (Away), West Ham (Home)
City will face a difficult stretch at the end of the season, playing three away matches in the last five. This includes two separate trips to Merseyside and matches that could prove stumbling blocks if City get too complacent.
Facing Liverpool at Anfield is a tough task late on. The two teams played out a 2-2 draw in this fixture last year, with City coming from a goal down twice to salvage a point. Luis Suarez's future is in doubt, but the Reds' transfer dealings could see them pose a formidable challenge to City's title hopes.
West Brom finished last year in eighth place and were in the top five for a decent stretch of the season. They will not have Romelu Lukaku—whose 17 goals were a massive haul for a loan spell—but still possess strong talent and a good mindset under Steve Clarke.
Crystal Palace might be stuck in a fight for Premier League survival at this point in the season. As such, they could be given extra motivation to give it their all when City come calling. Unfortunately for Ian Holloway, his men might just be outclassed in this one.
Then comes the trip to Goodison Park. The Toffees have proved fickle foes for Manchester clubs, with their 4-4 draw at Old Trafford all but handing City initiative to win the title. But the Blues have had their own woes against Moyes' men, including a 2-0 defeat in March, despite Everton being down a man.
The final match of the season will see West Ham visiting the Etihad. If City have the lead but do not have the title wrapped up by this point, they could expect to clinch it here. United face a tough away test against Southampton in their last match.
This part of the schedule ought to give City no fewer than 10 points. The two matches in Liverpool match might do some damage, but hopefully for City fans they will be comfortable enough before then.
Over the last four slides, City have picked up 61 points from 24 matches, which would put them on pace for about 96 points over the whole season. Keep in mind that the last two seasons have seen the champions pick up 89 points—28 wins, five draws, five losses.
Also note that the Premier League record for most points belongs to Mourinho's first reign at Chelsea. His side notched a whopping 95 points in 2004/05, losing just once in toppling Arsene Wenger's "invincible" Arsenal side.
If Pellegrini manages to get this side to that high of a point total in his first season, he will surely be celebrating his first European domestic title. While things may not pan out quite as described, the schedule sets up for City to take control early and hold on late.