Manchester City have had a shocking start to their Premier League title defense, with Pep Guardiola’s side set to travel to Tottenham Hotspur on the opening day of the 2021-22 season before facing Arsenal, Leicester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. The first seven games.
The new campaign kicks off with some box office clashes in the opening weekend (14-15 August) as City play Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United take on traditional rivals Leeds United at Old Trafford. Newly promoted Brentford kicks off their first season in the Premier League with a home game against London neighbors Arsenal.
Champions League champions Arsenal will then face Chelsea and City before the end of August in a tough start for Mikel Arteta’s side as Arsenal enter their first season without European football in 25 years.
But with matches now over for the season – they’re still subject to change due to broadcasting requirements – who would be happiest with their schedule and which teams would feel they’ve got a mountain to climb? And when are the games most important?
– Premier League matches: Manchester City will open against Tottenham
– Complete 2021-22 matches for all English Premier League clubs
Euro 2020 on ESPN: Live Matches and Replays (US only)
Good start for Manchester United, but beware October and November
Although Manchester United’s opening encounter with Leeds is tough, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side do not face any of the so-called Big Six until they host Liverpool on October 23. Prior to that match, United travel to Southampton, Wolverhampton. Wanderers and West Ham United play against Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Everton at Old Trafford.
Having failed to win a trophy since the 2017 Europa League – without a league title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 – the pressure is mounting on Solskjaer to win major trophies this season. Having finished last season in second place, United must capitalize on their positive start this time around if they have any serious prospect of winning the title. A poor start will see pressure build up in October, when they travel to Leicester and Tottenham on either side of the Liverpool game. November is also difficult, with matches against Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Tough start for City, but competition is positive
Manchester City got off to their worst start to a season in more than 10 years last year but ended up with a 12-point lead as champions, so a tough batch of matches in the first weeks shouldn’t worry them too much. However, City undoubtedly have a challenge ahead of them in the early stages of the season, starting with the opening day at Tottenham.
Back-to-back matches at Chelsea (September 25) and Liverpool (October 2) will be a test for Pep Guardiola and his players, but if they can get through their tough start and stay in contention at the top, their soft run will give them the belief that they can retain the title. After facing Liverpool at the Etihad on 9 April, the city’s last six games have been against Wolverhampton, Watford, Leeds, Newcastle, West Ham and Aston Villa, so expect to pick up a lot of points in recent weeks.
Pressure on Arteta from day one
Arteta has to play for Arsenal this season after he failed to secure European football last season, but the match computer has done the Arsenal manager no favors. The opening day’s trip to Brentford could be like last season’s 3-0 win over rookie Fulham, but the Bees are a dangerous and unpredictable team that can easily upset their illustrious neighbours.
If Arsenal falter on day one, they will need to get something at home for Chelsea or at Manchester City for the next two games to keep the pressure on. The north London derby at home to Tottenham on September 25 is likely to be very embarrassing for Arteta if his side fail to make a promising start to the season.
Nice start for Liverpool, but Christmas will be a test
Jurgen Klopp’s side opened with a trip to Norwich City followed by a home game against Burnley, who won at Anfield last season. The next game is at home against Chelsea, followed by a trip to Leeds, so while there is certainly an element of danger in these opening matches, it’s a balanced start for the 2019-20 champions.
However, the Christmas period promises to be a major test of Liverpool’s prospects with three away games – at Tottenham, Leicester and Chelsea – in two weeks’ time. Within those matches, Liverpool also face Leeds at Anfield on December 26.
Claim to open Chelsea
Chelsea are expected to compete for the Premier League title this season after winning the Champions League last month. But Thomas Tuchel’s side, who face European champions Villarreal in the European Super Cup in Belfast on August 11, could be said to have a tougher start than Man City.
Chelsea opened a home match against Crystal Palace, who will be under the new management after the departure of Roy Hodgson, and then face Arsenal, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Tottenham and City in their next five matches. The flip side for Chelsea is that in their last 12 league games, they’ve only met one Big Six team – a trip to Manchester United on May 15.
Tough start for Tottenham’s new manager, the London derby in September
The new Tottenham boss – expected to be former Roma boss Paulo Fonseca – will want a good start to his reign, but it won’t be easy, especially if star striker Harry Kane gets his wish and leaves the club this summer.
But if Spurs can get a positive result against City at the weekend at Tottenham Hotspur, confidence will be high ahead of the next set of matches against Wolverhampton Watford and Crystal Palace. Those opening matches will be crucial for the new man in charge of the back-to-back London derby against Chelsea and Arsenal in September. So for Spurs there is a chance for a really promising start in life under their new coach. Conversely, if the results worsen, he will be under a lot of pressure very early in the campaign.
Games you can’t miss
August 14: Manchester United vs Leeds United
Last season’s clash at Old Trafford ended in a 6-2 win for Solskjaer as both teams enjoyed a full match full of scoring opportunities. But while the entertainment value must again be high in this game, it is the prospect of one of the most intense rivalries in English football playing in front of the fans once again that makes it so appealing.
The Premier League hopes to have stadiums full again at the start of the new season after nearly 18 months of tight restrictions on crowd numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So what better way to get back to normal (or close to it, at least) than to play between two teams backed by over 70,000 passionate fans at Old Trafford?
September 25: Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur
Don’t expect this match to be important in terms of determining the outcome of the title race this season – it could end up being nothing more than a playoff for qualifying for the Europa League. But while both of the North London giants are in transition, it remains a big fixture on the fixture schedule and this early encounter will give an indication if either team is heading in the right direction again.
Arsenal finished well last season in the league, narrowly losing to Europe after changing their results in the second half of the season, so they will want to maintain that rebound under Arteta. And for Spurs, it’s all about the new manager and how he starts as a permanent successor to Jose Mourinho.
September 25: Chelsea vs Manchester City
The first return match from last season’s Champions League final, which Chelsea won 1-0 in Porto to win their second European Cup title. Premier League champions City expect Chelsea to challenge for the league title this season, so Pep Guardiola considers it crucial that his side put an end to their losing streak against Tuchel.
Chelsea have now won three consecutive games against City – in the League, FA Cup and Champions League – so a fourth win in a row would give them a huge psychological advantage over Guardiola’s side. But that is the kind of test City usually enjoy, so they will travel to Stamford Bridge with the goal of repeating their 3-1 win over Chelsea last January.
October 2: Liverpool vs Manchester City
This confrontation between the last two champions of the Premier League is still going on The Match of the season in terms of impact on the title race.
Liverpool spectacularly lost their way last season, losing six consecutive home games in the league, but finished the season in third place. Jurgen Klopp’s side expect to fight for the title again this season and will also be in dire need of avenging Anfield’s defeat last season to Guardiola’s side.
In recent seasons, no one has come close to rivaling Liverpool and City for consistency at the top of the Premier League, and they are still the two teams to beat. There will be a growing sense of motivation in Liverpool to get back to normal after their poor title defense last time around, so a win against City will be high on their agenda.
November 6: Manchester United vs Manchester City
If Manchester United manage to contend for the title this season, they simply have to win this match. United have failed to finish above City in any season since winning the title in 2013 and Manchester’s balance of power is now firmly in the blue half of the city.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have learned how to beat their neighbors in recent seasons, but their record at Old Trafford against the Blues is poor, so it’s important that they put that right in this match.
January 1: Chelsea vs Liverpool
This could be an explosive start to 2022 as the two teams likely battle Manchester City head-to-head at Stamford Bridge.
By this point in the season, we’ll know what the title race will look like and favorite teams to finish on top. It is set to be an exciting battle between coaches Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp – Champions League winners – as they try to reform City as champions.
Liverpool won at Chelsea in the first weeks of last season, but the Blues avenged that defeat by winning at Anfield in the second half of the season.
January 22: Chelsea vs Tottenham Hotspur
No matter what’s at stake when these two meet, the rivalry between the two teams ensures that it’s usually eventful – last season’s 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge was certainly a rare quiet day between Chelsea and Tottenham.
Chelsea are now the best dogs in London after winning the Champions League for the second time, and if they work their way up they could also include Kane in their squad next season. Such a controversial transfer is still unlikely, but Chelsea have the money and ambition to get it done, and Kane wants to play for a club that wins big trophies. But even if that deal doesn’t go through, the Chelsea-Tottenham game is always a staple on the calendar.
March 19: Liverpool vs Manchester United
Traditionally, this is the biggest match in English football – a meeting between the two most successful and best-supported clubs in the country. But when the two teams met at Anfield in recent seasons, it was usually either a one-sided win for Liverpool or a goalless draw.
United have not won at Anfield since Wayne Rooney’s goal sealed a 1-0 victory in January 2016, and they haven’t come close to a win in their last visits. Solskjaer’s side have plenty of work to do to finish their miserable run at Anfield but if they are chasing the title they will have to get back to Liverpool’s winning ways in this match.