When Brendan Rodgers took over as manager of Liverpool last summer, he was quickly presented with a hugely daunting task; namely, trying to guide the club to a positive start in his debut season while facing the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton all within the first nine games.
Oh, and while also trying to negotiate the lengthy qualification process for the UEFA Europa League, too.
It didn't go extremely well for the Reds in terms of results, despite more than a few impressive performances. They took just two wins and 10 points from that opening sequence of matches, leaving the club in the bottom half of the table and already playing catch-up.
This time around, the release of the 2013-14 fixture list should offer rather more encouragement to Rodgers and his team.
In the same time frame, the opening nine games which take Liverpool up to the start of November, the only top-six team they will face will be Manchester United, at Anfield, on August 31. They also face five sides who battled relegation late into last season, a newly-promoted club and two mid-table teams in West Brom (eighth last season) and Swansea (ninth).
From January last season onwards, the Reds played at home nine times in the Premier League; they won five, drew three and lost just once in that period, yielding an average of two points per game for those fixtures.
With five of their nine opening matches this season being played at Anfield, Brendan Rodgers will be very much hoping for a strong start to the campaign, with Stoke, Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Brom all likely being seen as very winnable matches.
Can the Reds beat Manchester United?
They must feel they have a passable chance. The transfer window has 10 weeks yet to run, so much of both starting lineups could be different in theory, but last season Liverpool were the better side against United at Anfield and the game changed on Jonjo Shelvey's red card. Add into the mix the fact that David Moyes will be newly in charge of United—it will be only his third league game in charge—and he has never won at Anfield, and there will be every reason for confidence in the home camp.
It sounds ambitious, but there is no reason that Liverpool shouldn't aim for five wins from five at home.
Even four wins and a draw would be a good return, if away performances and results also bear fruit.
Aston Villa, Swansea City, Sunderland and Newcastle United are the fixtures that the Reds face away from Anfield between season's start and October's end. From those games last season, Liverpool attained two wins and two draws, a total of eight points and again an average of two points per game.
Now, there's nothing to assure that they'll achieve the same results this time around—Newcastle almost certainly won't be so atrocious again as when the Reds battered them 6-0—but form, confidence and momentum from good home results could certainly push the Reds on to get two wins from those four games.
Of course, nothing ever goes perfectly to plan.
At some point in that period of nine opening games, the Reds will likely lose to a team they expected to beat, or will drop soft points with a frustrating home draw. That latter has certainly happened enough times over the past two seasons for it to be no longer surprising when it occurs.
But at worst, Liverpool should certainly be looking to take 17 points from their opening nine matches, and if they hit the ground running and especially if the likes of Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge recover fully from their summer injuries to play a full part from August onwards, as many as 20 or 21 points could be on the cards.
Looking back at the Premier League table over the past few years, the 17-point haul would be enough to put Liverpool in fourth or better at this stage in two of the four seasons since the Reds last ended the season in those coveted places. After nine matches each last season, 21 points would have placed the Reds joint-second.
Of course, with the fixtures different for all clubs again this season it could be very different this time around, but early on in the campaign Liverpool can only worry about their own form and points tally.
Even if the Reds make a blistering start to the campaign, far harder matches will of course be around the corner, notably when they travel to Arsenal and Everton in November, and Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea in December.
A drop in form will be apparent at some stage, which should be treated with similar caution and level-headedness as any good spells at the beginning of the campaign should be; the aim for Liverpool and Rodgers will be to ensure that, over the course of the whole season, they average out at around 1.9 or 2.0 points per game.
That would be enough to get Liverpool in contention for a top-four place come the end of the season; a hugely tall ask having finished seventh only a month ago, but certainly an attainable target and one which must be strived for.
Too often in recent seasons Liverpool have already been playing catch-up in the Premier League, even if just for a European spot and not challenging for the title, by October or November. Certainly by Christmas, targets usually have to be revised and the January transfer window becomes an object of salvation rather than merely an opportunity to strengthen.
The 2013-14 Premier League fixture list has handed Liverpool an opportunity to put themselves up amongst the challengers for a Champions League spot from very early on this time around.
Now Rodgers and his coaching staff have to ensure the players are physically, tactically and, importantly, mentally prepared to take advantage of this chance which has been presented them. An impressive start could make for a very exciting season ahead.
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