The Frank de Boer debacle continues
At this stage of the season, it is always worth bearing in mind who teams have faced when judging their position in the league table. Everton, for example, lies just in the relegation places on four points, but have faced Chelsea and both Manchester clubs away, as well as a strong Tottenham Hotspur at home. Four points might be bang on par for what they might expect.
Last season, Burnley faced seven of the other nine bottom half teams (including if Bournemouth and West Ham are switched which, really, is a fairer reflection of their seasons – if you want to argue, read this first) at home in the first half of the season. They duly picked up 16 points from those seven matches, a full 40% of their final total for 2016/17.
Replacing the relegated sides from last year with the promoted sides from this, and Swansea mirror that seven in 2017/18, though have only played one such game so far – against Newcastle, which they lost. Burnley themselves have six of nine in the first half of the season and are keeping the trick going (amongst a small sample size) with a victory against Crystal Palace.
Swansea’s next five home games all fall into this category though: Watford, Huddersfield, Leicester, Brighton, and Bournemouth. If they’ve risen to a surprising spot in the table by late November then it may well be down to the fixture schedule. The other side of the coin also applies though – if Swansea finds themselves hovering above a relegation battle at that stage, it’s probably not going to get any better during the rest of the year.
Huddersfield is one of the sides who have the fewest ‘easy’ home games early on, with just three in the first 19 matches. They’ve already had two of them. A draw against Leicester and a win against Newcastle is a reasonable return, but The Terriers will have to wait until the spring for a similarly kind run of fixtures at home. They welcome Bournemouth, Swansea, Palace, and Watford in a stretch of home games between February and April, in what could be key battles before the end-of-season run-in.
Stoke are a good example of a team who should be wary of the fact that they have a harsh early fixture list. They too only face three of the bottom-half sides before Christmastime and have five points. They’ve faced Arsenal and Manchester United at home so far. They play Chelsea and Southampton at the bet365 Stadium next, followed by a trip to the Etihad. Late October and November look easier, but though they have a run of opponents which reads Watford, Leicester, Brighton, Crystal Palace, three of those games are away fixtures.
Looking at these fixture lists, the Frank de Boer debacle may have been even worse for Crystal Palace than it appeared at first glance (I’m sorry, Palace fans, really I am). Two of the games that Palace have lost so far were home games against Huddersfield and Swansea, ties that, amidst a relegation fight, are ones you can look to pick up points. Not so.
Now, with Manchester City, United, and Chelsea their next three games, Palace don’t have an ‘easy’ run of games until December. They face Bournemouth (H), Watford (H), Leicester (A), and Swansea (A), before a festive period which may as well be a write-off: Boxing Day at home to Arsenal, New Year’s Eve Eve at home to Man City, and then New Year’s Day on the south coast against Southampton.
December could be their make or break, but their run-in looks nice. Assuming no fixture re-jigs, their list from the start of April until the end of the season reads Bournemouth (A), Brighton (H), Watford (A), Leicester (H), Stoke (A), and West Brom – presumably boringly safe by that point, and therefore on the beach – (H). Roy’s Eagles may be pointless for the moment, but if their fans can stick out several months of hardship for a couple of months of likely points-hauls, they could well be fine.
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