Ten best fixtures
The fixtures for the 2009/2010 Barclays Premier League season were released this morning. Champions Manchester United face newly promoted Birmingham on the opening day, while Arsenal await the first encounter with the 'Big Four' at Old Trafford on 29 August. Here is a look at ten of the stand-out matches of the campaign ahead.
BURNLEY v MANCHESTER UNITED (Tuesday, 18 August)
Clarets manager Owen Coyle accepts it does not come any tougher than to face three of the big four over the opening weeks of the new campaign. Expect Turfmoor to be packed to the rafters as United look to avoid an early-season banana skin.
MANCHESTER UNITED v ARSENAL (Saturday, August 29)
The Gunners will already be playing catch-up in terms of games because of their UEFA Champions League qualifier, and so could do with making up any early lost ground with a positive result at Old Trafford, having been outclassed in the European Cup semi-final tie there last season, in the first clash of the traditional title challengers.
BIRMINGHAM v ASTON VILLA (Saturday, 12 September)
The last time the Blues were in the top flight, they were beaten 5-1 by their city rivals at Villa Park, having also gone down at home. There will be little quarter given as the newly promoted side look to earn some early-season bragging rights.
MANCHESTER UNITED v MANCHESTER CITY (Saturday, 19 September)
Just what City's Middle East millions will be able to produce on the field this season could well become clearer after the short trip across from Eastlands. There have, though, been false dawns before, with Sven Goran Eriksson's side recording a memorable double in 2007/2008, only for the Reds to have the last laugh.
ARSENAL v TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (Saturday, 31 October)
The Gunners fans are still smarting from the way Spurs came back to snatch a dramatic 4-4 draw at Emirates Stadium at the same time last season. Such lapses in concentration almost cost Arsene Wenger's men a place in the top four, so do not expect them to make the same mistakes twice. Then again...
CHELSEA v MANCHESTER UNITED (Saturday, 7 November)
Just after Bonfire Night, the fireworks are set to be off again when the two powerhouses meet at Stamford Bridge. By then, new manager Carlo Ancelotti will have already had a first taste of the big four against Liverpool on 3 October, but this encounter is more likely to show the Italian coach just what he is up against.
ARSENAL v HULL CITY (Saturday, 19 December)
Do not expect much festive cheer on display when Hull head back to Emirates Stadium. There is little love lost between the two clubs after last season's FA Cup tie and it is safe to say Tigers manager Phil Brown should not expect a Christmas card from Arsene Wenger.
MANCHESTER UNITED v LIVERPOOL (Saturday, 20 March, 2010)
Liverpool fans were dreaming of the title when they shocked Old Trafford after a stunning 4-1 win during early March 2009. However, United recovered to march on towards the championship. Should, though, Rafael Benitez's men produce a repeat performance next time around, then the run-in next season could be very interesting, with United hosting Chelsea on 3 April.
LIVERPOOL v CHELSEA (Saturday, 1 May, 2010)
In the penultimate week of the season, this fixture could well hold the balance of power in the title race. Both teams will be hoping to still be within touching distance of the leaders, or even at the top themselves. Defeat for either side would likely signal the end of their challenge.
BIRMINGHAM v BURNLEY (Saturday, 1 May, 2010)
The battle to stay in the Premier League is often just as intriguing as the title race. With chances of picking up three precious points running out, this could well be the last chance for either of the two fancied relegation battlers. Of course, by then both teams could just as easily be safe and have nothing to worry about.