As fans and players the length and breadth of the country lick their lips at the prospect of a new Premier League season, and all eyes on their teams’ opening fixtures, it might be worth remembering that despite all the hype and all the build-up, championships and relegation is not decided on the first day.
That said, there are certain patterns that emerge that are indicative of past or future success. A glaring example is that the reigning champions have never lost an opening day fixture, winning 18 and drawing the remaining three. Teams that end up as champions, however, sometimes get off to a less auspicious start, with nine eventual champions failing to win their opening fixture, including six draws and three defeats (all Manchester United, twice in the early 90’s, and again at Everton last season). So should they fail to beat Swansea, would it suggest they can’t lift the title?
At the other end of the spectrum, and as you might expect, teams that end up being relegated more often than not see the danger signs looming right from day one, losing 34 of their 64 respective opening day fixtures. Having said that, no less than 11 ultimately relegated clubs won their opening game (along with 19 draws), so many a fan might have been lulled into an initial sense of false security by a flattering early success. Just to prove further that one swallow does not a summer make, Derby County earned a creditable draw in their opening game in 2007-8, one valuable point to add to the 10 other points they earned in the whole remainder of the season, while in 2010-11 and 2011-12 Blackpool (at Wigan) and Bolton (at QPR) both began their respective seasons with resounding 4-0 away wins, only to subsequently face the dreaded drop.
Of course, first day success can depend on the luck of the draw and the vagaries of the Premier League fixture computer. Arsenal’s opener against Aston Villa will be the 16th time out of 22 that they have begun their season at home, while North London rivals might suspect favouritism when considering that their trip across London to Selhurst Park will be the 15th time they have opened their campaign away from White Hart Lane.
A few individual opening day stats are worth noting, just for the record. If Frank Lampard gets on the field against Hull on Sunday, it will be his 18th consecutive opening day appearance, taking him one clear of the retired Paul Scholes (for all of Ryan Giggs’s longevity, he has only played in 15 curtain-raisers up to now). In addition to this, if Lampard scores it will the 8th time he will have done so, drawing him level with Alan Shearer in the early bird shooting stakes. And talking of getting off to a flyer, there have been seven opening day hat-tricks, but only two since the turn of the millennium, namely Villa’s Gabriel Agbonlahor in 2008 (4-2 win over Man City) and Didier Drogba in Chelsea’s 6-0 drubbing of West Brom in 2010. Give yourself a pat on the back if you remember Quinn, LeTissier, Campbell, Ravenelli and Dublin performing the same feat in the mid-90’s.
At the other end of the field, new Chelsea team-mates Petr Cech and Mark Schwarzer both hold the record for opening day clean sheets with half a dozen apiece, while Schwarzer is near the top of a less auspicious list, having conceded no less than 18 goals in opening day fixtures. The holder of that dubious title is Brad Friedel with 21 goals conceded, but as with most of these kinds of records, this could be said to have more to do with longevity than ability.
One footnote: on the opening day of the inaugural Premier League season in August 1992, just 11 foreign players took the field. Give yourself an even bigger pat on the back (and maybe even 10 virtual bonus points) if you can name the two Danes, two Dutchmen, two Swedes, the Russian, the Czech, the Aussie, the Norwegian, and the mercurial Frenchman who madeup the number.
A further 1000 bonus points if you can name all the foreign players who will start this coming weekend.
Good luck with that, and good luck to everyone as the new season kicks off.