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50-50 Challenge: Merseyside derby

Liverpool vs. Everton 6 days ago
Read
Jun 18, 2014

Even spread of difficulty for Reds

Brendan Rodgers is a man on a mission next season.

There might be eight more weeks separating the England-Uruguay game from Liverpool's opening-league match against Southampton in August, but the latter will already be pressing upon every Reds' mind. The World Cup has been very good up to now, but there really is no replacement for "proper" football.

When a new fixture list comes out, there is always a nostalgic rush for those of us elder statesmen of supporter-dom, as every game is earmarked for a Saturday and a 3 o'clock kickoff. Of course you know that isn't going to last for long, but just as you know there's no Santa Claus, it's always fun just to pretend for whatever length of time the TV companies can keep their paws off them.

You often hear supporters talk about difficult or easy starts, knowing that an energetic spring out of the traps in August can set your team up for a good season. There isn't really any way to gauge that, of course, except for the presence of perennial challengers such as Manchester City and United; Chelsea and Arsenal. In Liverpool's case, it does look pretty evenly spread, unlike last season where nearly all the hard away games came before the turn of the year.

A vague measurement of difficulty can be statistically calculated by referring back to last year's results. That's complicated by three upcoming teams replacing the three who vanished to the Championship, though this summer it's been made easier by Liverpool's clean sweep of all six matches against the sides that were eventually relegated. Leicester, Burnley and QPR are therefore interchangeable with any of the teams that left us in May.

The Reds will begin with two games they lost last time out -- Southampton at home and Manchester City away -- followed by Tottenham away, which is usually difficult despite the ease of last season's 5-0 thrashing. It's nice to have another home opener, though who knows how these things work out. Poor old Rafa Benitez started away in all of his six seasons, which indicates a complaint may have been made by the club since the Reds have opened at Anfield now in four of the five Augusts since Rafa was unceremoniously removed.

Liverpool fans tend to differ on the fixture they look for first. A lot born within the city walls will seek out Everton, while the majority of the club's "out-of-towners" always look toward Manchester United. This will be the first summer derby against Everton at Anfield for a long while; the last time Everton "travelled" to a derby first was in 2012. But even that was in chilly December. The upcoming fixture could even conceivably be the 15th anniversary of the Blues' last Anfield triumph, which will at least keep the local headline writers happy,

Practical supporters look closely at the games that immediately follow the international breaks, when Liverpool often struggle, hoping that there will be easier home games or trips that do not involve much travel. With further investigation, it appears Liverpool have to travel to London after three of those "free" weekends, with the April trip to Arsenal looking particularly unpleasant.

The Christmas holiday fixtures do not look too bad, with a short journey to newcomers Burnley preceding home matches against Swansea and Leicester. Given that last season saw daunting and ultimately fruitless trips to Manchester City and Chelsea, the 2014-15 list is a distinct improvement.

There's really no point in fretting over who plays whom and when at this stage. Football seasons are the same every year: Your team has to face everyone home and away, whatever order they come in. A quick comparison check on last season's results sees Liverpool's first 19 games are meant to yield 42 points, and the second half of the season a similar 42 points if this year's results are the same as last time. They won't be, of course, but at least it indicates an even spread of difficulty throughout.

The general temperature of the support regarding how Liverpool will fare next season can only be measured once everyone knows which players are coming in and which will be staying. The Reds have usually fared averagely immediately after a World Cup, so that's something that needs to be taken into the calculations.

Still, 2014-15 comes on the back of a wildly unpredictable season for the team, so maybe the gloom merchants should keep up their sorrowful tone -- it worked out so well last time around!