Man City’s kind start to Hull’s tough return: How the fixture list could shape the PL season

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The order in which teams face each other has an often-overlooked impact on how a domestic season plays out, with runs of tough and easy fixtures driving many of the twists and turns we see in title races and relegation battles.

Here is a look at how the newly-released Premier League fixture list could shape the 2016/17 season.

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Manchester City should start and end well

Pep Guardiola’s arrival makes Manchester City the early favourites for the 2016/17 Premier League title and the fixture list gives them the easiest-looking start of any front-runner. Of the six clubs thought to be leading contenders, City are the only one who face only two of the others before the end of November. The rest — Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool — each face a title rival four times in this period. City are also set to finish the season with one of the most straightforward run-ins. After a tough sequence which sees them play four of their five closest challengers in the space of six games, their final seven matches include encounters with four relegation favourites, so a late surge in form looks likely.

Leicester City will need to hit the ground running

While Leicester’s opening match against newly-promoted Hull gives them a good chance of avoiding becoming the first ever Premier League champions to lose the first match of their title defence, few teams have a tougher-looking start to their campaign. Leicester are the only club to face five of the current six title favourites in their first 10 fixtures, so they will face a stern early examination of their ability to repeat last season’s incredible title win.

Hull’s tough games are like buses

After facing the champions in their first match back in the top flight, things do not get much easier for Hull. They go on to meet four of the clubs considered most likely to claim the title in their following six games and also have to face four of them back-to-back in mid-January. Fellow promoted side Middlesbrough should enjoy a much gentler return to the top flight; they do not have to play one of the division’s giants until their sixth match. However Boro will need to have plenty of points on the board before a daunting run-in which sees them face four of the six title favourites in their last six games.

Ronald Koeman can make a good first impression

The fixture list has been kind to new Everton manager Ronald Koeman, whose side will face three of the six relegation favourites in his first five matches at the helm. If the Dutchman can successfully navigate a tough opening game, which sees Tottenham visit Goodison Park, he has the opportunity to endear himself to the Everton faithful during winnable-looking encounters with West Brom, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

Tony Pulis can quickly silence the doubters

After some unconvincing displays last season, West Brom are among the early relegation favourites this time around. However with none of their first seven matches pitting them against one of the title favourites, there could be a rapid reassessment of their prospects if they can take advantage by racking up a few early wins. The fact that five of their final 10 fixtures are against clubs expected to finish in the top six provides a more powerful incentive for Tony Pulis to ensure his charges start this season well.