Although the start of the 2013-14 English Premier League season is just under two months away, it feels much closer now after the release of the fixture slate for the new season.
The EPL released the new schedule on Wednesday, totaling 380 games over the course of 10 months that will decide whether or not Manchester United will defend their title or if another club will climb the ladder and take over the league table by the time next season ends.
Wigan Athletic, Reading and Queens Park Rangers have been relegated for next year, while Hull City, Crystal Palace and Cardiff City are taking their place at the bottom of the table when the year opens.
Now that we can officially take a look at the upcoming fixtures and start to get ready for the excitement of English football, here's a look at a few early-season matches to circle on your calendar right away.
For a complete look at the entire 2013-14 English Premier League fixture schedule, click here (via PremierLeague.com).
Opening-Week EPL Schedule (August 17)
|Arsenal vs. Aston Villa|
|Chelsea vs. Hull City|
|Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur|
|Liverpool vs. Stoke City|
|Manchester City vs. Newcastle United|
|Norwich City vs. Everton|
|Sunderland vs. Fulham|
|Swansea City vs. Manchester United|
|West Bromwich Albion v Southampton|
|West Ham United vs. Cardiff City|
Fixtures via PremierLeague.com.
Early-Season Matches to Watch
August 24: Manchester United vs. Chelsea
The reigning champs will be headed for the Champions League next season, and the Blues will be joining them after finishing third in the EPL table at the end of the 2012-13 season.
Both squads will also have new managers and expectations to win the EPL in just the second week of the season.
Which manager will have a better first season?
David Moyes is taking over for Sir Alex Ferguson after the latter stepped down from his post at United, and "The Special One," otherwise known as former Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho, is taking over at Chelsea.
Sparks should fly between two of the most storied clubs in England, and there's a good chance this match sheds some light on what the early returns will be for the transfer efforts and new managers that have been brought in to both Manchester United and Chelsea.
It will also be a first chance to see Wilfried Zaha play for the Red Devils against a quality club, and if Wayne Rooney will still be around for the Red Devils. On all levels, this is a can't-miss match for the early part of the season.
August 31: Arsenal vs. Tottenham
Arsenal sneaked into the Champions League pool by besting Tottenham by one point in the table last season, and this is the third match of the fixture slate for both teams on the new season.
A chance for revenge awaits the Spurs, while the Gunners will look to prove they can be a force in Champions League play despite the loss of several contributors from the fourth-place squad last year.
The one-sided rivalry between these two sides has reached the point where some have pondered whether or not Tottenham will ever be able to climb the mountain and take down the Gunners in the table soon.
Eurosport (via Yahoo! Sports) pondered this question earlier in the year, and it's a question that might be partially answered if the Spurs can pick up a road win at Fly Emirates Stadium in the third week of the season.
September 14: Swansea City vs. Liverpool
There's a lot of buzz surrounding the Reds this offseason. After a seventh-place finish in the table last season, Liverpool is facing issues with retaining Luis Suarez and finding a way to crack the top four next year. They need to find a way to bring more talent to Anfield, as well.
Swansea City is a club to watch next year, mainly because the kind of talent it takes to leap into the fray for a top-four spot in the table is extremely hard to make.
However, the Swans have a chance to accomplish just that after finishing ninth in the table last year and picking up José Cañas from Real Betis during the transfer window.
It isn't a flashy match with high-level clubs, but it's one that is important in the sense that the table is made up of a large number of teams with championship aspirations. It's also one that holds a revenge factor for the home side—the Swans lost 5-0 against the Reds last year in EPL play.
The Reds and the Swans might be far apart in terms of assets, but they weren't that far apart on the table last year, and this might be a match at home against Liverpool that really cements the idea that every match in the EPL counts.
We're still waiting on the new season to begin, but at least you've got the schedule to mull over why you wait, right? In the meantime, there's plenty of international football to keep your competitive football juices flowing.
Follow Bleacher Report FC Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.