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Jun 18, 2014

Top 10 fixtures of 2014-15 Prem season

ESPN FC's Mark Donaldson takes a look at the recently released 2014-15 Premier League fixtures, with a glimpse into Manchester United and Manchester City's upcoming campaigns.

The World Cup finals may be consuming the attention of football fans around the globe right now, but a reminder that the next Premier League season will soon be upon us arrived with the release of the new fixtures.

Incoming Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal appears to be one of the biggest winners after he was handed an opening few games that will give him a chance to get off to a flying start at Old Trafford, with some of his new rivals not so happy with their lot in what promises to be an unpredictable season.

Manchester City and Liverpool will renew their title challenge from last season in a huge August match.

The key games

Manchester City vs. Liverpool (Aug. 23)
Last season's Premier League top two will go head to head in what should be a compelling fixture at the Etihad Stadium in the second weekend of the season. The victors of this clash could strike a vital early psychological blow.

Arsenal vs. Manchester City (Sept. 13)
Defending champions City have been handed some tricky fixtures in the first few weeks of the season and this trip to Emirates Stadium will test them, especially if the Gunners have added to the forward line before the end of the summer transfer window.

Arsenal vs. Tottenham (Sept. 27)
Fans of north London's top two clubs look out for the first meeting of the season with their old foes and this game will give new Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino an early chance to establish himself in the White Hart Lane hot seat.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea (Oct. 25)
New United boss Van Gaal has been handed a collection of early fixtures against newly promoted sides that should ease him into the job, and his first big test will come when he locks horns with his former pupil, Jose Mourinho, at Old Trafford.

Liverpool vs. Chelsea (Nov. 8)
This was the fixture that proved pivotal in last season's title race, with Steven Gerrard's slip paving the way for a Chelsea win at Anfield and, ultimately, Manchester City's title success. How Liverpool would like to sample a touch of revenge in the rematch.

Manchester United vs. Liverpool (Dec. 13)
Liverpool's emphatic win at Old Trafford last season contributed to the sacking of manager David Moyes and United will be able to gauge their improvement under Van Gaal when the most successful clubs in English football play this standout fixture in the run-up to Christmas.

Manchester City vs. Arsenal (Jan. 17)
Arsenal's 6-3 drubbing at the Etihad Stadium last season came on the back of a tricky Champions League tie in Napoli a few days before, yet Gunners boss Arsene Wenger will not be able to use that excuse if he loses to City again next season.

Everton vs. Liverpool (Feb. 7)
Liverpool's impressive rise under Brendan Rodgers somewhat overshadowed the fine first season pieced together by Roberto Martinez at Everton, but the overall picture was of progress for both of Merseyside's teams. Can the Toffees go to the next level and push for a top-four finish?

Arsenal vs. Chelsea (April 25)
Arsenal face a challenging end to their Premier League season with games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United all on their agenda. If they are still competing in competitions, as well, their challenge will be multiplied.

Manchester United vs. Arsenal (May 16)
If Van Gaal has inspired a United revival, this fixture could be pivotal to his end-of-season hopes. The same may be true for an Arsenal side that will hope to be in title contention in their penultimate game at Old Trafford.

Louis Van Gaal should be able to breeze through his first few features with Manchester United.

The big winner

David Moyes persistently complained about the difficulty of the fixture list he was handed in his first few weeks as Manchester United manager last August, with the Scot even hinting there may have been a conspiracy to make his life difficult.

His successor Louis van Gaal can have few such complaints, as a six-game opening burst against Swansea, Sunderland, Burnley, QPR, Leicester and West Ham appears to give him a chance to get his Old Trafford reign off to a flier.

United's welcoming opening to the season is compensated for with what appears to be a tough run in March and April, when games against Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton come in quick succession.

The big losers

Manchester City have been handed a challenging start to a season that may get underway with some of their World Cup stars still feeling the effects of their efforts in Brazil this summer.

Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea are all on their agenda in the first five games, yet their final six games of the campaign offer Manuel Pellegrini's side a chance to finish in style as games against QPR, Swansea and Southampton conclude their season.

Arsenal face some tricky fixture issues if they come through their Champions League qualifier, with a potential second group-stage game sandwiched between London derbies against Tottenham and Chelsea in late September and early October.

Liverpool face a trip to Old Trafford ahead of their third Champions League group date, with a game against Chelsea coming shortly after their fifth European date, as the Anfield club get used to life back in Europe's elite competition.

The run in

Liverpool appear to have been presented with a presentable set of fixtures in the final few weeks of the Premier League season, with the away trip to Chelsea the only clash against possible title rivals in their final seven games.

Chelsea are less fortunate, as they have games against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool to negotiate in the final month of the season, with Van Gaal's United also handed a demanding end to the season with games against Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton and Arsenal in their final handful of matches.

Last-day deciders?

The Premier League title may still be on the line in the 38th and final game of the season and if that thrilling conclusion is to be played out, two of the preseason title favourites will contest their last fixture on home soil.

Liverpool's tricky trip to Stoke will conclude their season, with Manchester United on their travels at Hull. Those two teams will be hoping those dates could be laced with destiny if they are still challenging for the big prize.

Arsenal have been given a home game against West Bromwich Albion and champions City will entertain Southampton on May 24, while Chelsea's final game comes against a Sunderland side that beat them at Stamford Bridge last season to end their title push. Blues boss Jose Mourinho may wonder if he can claim revenge against the Black Cats and win the Premier League title all at once.