Key matches in the Premier League, inevitable matches for top clubs

Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC15 June 2023 at 07:00 ET11 minutes of reading

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Just five days after Manchester City sealed the 2022-23 season by completing a Premier League/FA Cup/Champions League treble, the countdown to the 2023-24 campaign has begun with the release of the fixture list for the coming year.

Pep Guardiola’s City will attempt to become the first club in English league history dating back to 1888 to win four consecutive titles. Meanwhile, last season’s runners-up Arsenal will be hoping to mark the 20th anniversary of Arsene Wenger’s side winning the league as “Invincibles” by ending their two-decade wait to be crowned champions again.

Luton Town will be the smallest team to play in the Premier League, nine years after winning promotion from the National League, by holding matches at their 10,356 capacity Kenilworth Road stadium. Their only goal will be to survive in the top class.

Mauricio Pochettino (Chelsea) and Ange Postecoglou (Tottenham Hotspur) start new managerial jobs with the aim of reviving their clubs after disappointing seasons last time out.

With the fixtures now announced and managers, players and supporters able to plot their way to success – or else – here are the big talking points of the Premier League schedule for 2023-24.

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Manchester City got off to a dream start

Pep Guardiola’s treble winners start the season facing two promoted sides in their first three games, with a trip to Burnley – led by former City captain Vincent Kompany – launching their campaign on Friday 11 August. After facing Newcastle United at the Etihad on August 19, City then travel to Sheffield United before a home game against Fulham takes them into the first international break in early September.

There is, of course, a downside to playing promoted teams early in the season. Confidence is still high from the previous campaign and the positive momentum could give these teams the impetus to start well. But compared to their rivals, City are off to a dream start. Apart from the early clash with Newcastle, the first difficult game on their list is the away game at Arsenal on October 7.

A six-week spell in the autumn could be City’s big test, with a trip to Manchester United on October 28 followed by Chelsea (away November 11), Liverpool (home November 25) and Tottenham (home December 2 ). And after getting off to a dream start, City also close the season with must-win games against Nottingham Forest (away), Wolverhampton Wanderers (home), Fulham (away) and West Ham United (home).

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Tough start at Chelsea for Pochettino

After enduring a nightmare season last time out under three different managers – Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard – Chelsea are set to start well under new boss Mauricio Pochettino, but the former Spurs boss could hardly have had a tougher start to the job.

Chelsea open with a home game against Liverpool on August 13 before traveling to East London six days later for a derby against Europa Conference League winners West Ham. Two games steeped in history and rivalry, so the pressure will be on Chelsea and Pochettino to get off to a positive start ahead of back-to-back home games against Luton and Forest.

Pochettino, who guided Spurs to a Champions League final in 2019, will return to his old club for the first time on November 4 before Chelsea face Manchester City the following weekend. However, without European football at Stamford Bridge this season, Chelsea’s ability to focus exclusively on home games could help Pochettino get the team back on track.

Liverpool and Man United face big rivals early on

Liverpool and Manchester United supporters constantly argue over who is the biggest and most successful club – both are historically way ahead of the rest in England – and they can now agree to disagree on which of the two clubs has it hardest start to the season.

To have any hope of beating Manchester City to the title, Liverpool and United will need to take to the field, but the match computer has not been kind to either of them.

While Erik ten Hag’s United open with a clash against Wolves at Old Trafford, their first two away games take them to Tottenham (August 19) and Arsenal (September 2) – a very difficult start for Harry Kane if United succeed in taking him from Spurs this summer.

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who finished fifth last season, open with a difficult trip to Chelsea before also traveling to Newcastle (August 26) and a home game against Unai Emery’s resurgent Aston Villa on September 2.

A clash at Anfield on August 19 with Bournemouth, who they thrashed 9-0 in the corresponding fixture last season, gives Liverpool a respite from their torrid start.

Arsenal have the chance of a flying start

Arsenal mounted a title challenge last season after building on a whirlwind start, winning their first five games, and Mikel Arteta’s side have the chance to open up in similar fashion this time around.

A home game against Nottingham Forest, followed by a trip to Crystal Palace and then Fulham at the Emirates on August 26, gives the Gunners the opportunity to knock on nine points before a tougher round of games against Manchester United (home, September 2), Everton (away , September 16) and Spurs (at home, September 23). But with United and Spurs visiting the Emirates in that period, it means Arsenal can aim to be the side to keep pace with City in the opening weeks of the season.

Arsenal’s recurring fault, however, is their ability to win in the final weeks of the campaign, having blown out Champions League qualification and the title over the past two seasons. This time they face two daunting away games at Spurs (April 27) and Man United (May 11), so Arsenal will need to find a way to win in the run-up if they are to win the title this season.

Matches you don’t want to miss

Chelsea v Liverpool (August 13)

It’s rare for such a box office to be staged on the opening weekend of the season, but this one has all the ingredients to be the first standout game of the campaign.

Liverpool need to bounce back from last season’s failure to finish in the top four, but Chelsea were even worse, finishing in the bottom half of the table. So these will be two teams with so much to prove and expensive signings – Chelsea’s Mykhailo Mudryk and Enzo Fernandez, Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez – needing to show they can deliver in the Premier League after a disappointing first season.

And then there is Pochettino, back in the Premier League, desperately trying to win his first game as Chelsea boss against Klopp, the manager who denied him Champions League glory while at Spurs.

Manchester City vs. Newcastle United (19 August)

We all know what to expect from Manchester City, but this will be a game that will show us if Newcastle are the real deal under Eddie Howe and if they can challenge for the title in 2023-24.

The Magpies are likely to have significantly strengthened their squad when the season kicks off, ahead of a first Champions League campaign in 20 years, and will see this game as the acid test of their progress.

A title challenge at St James’ Park looks a year or two away, but Newcastle confounded expectations by securing a top-four finish last season, so don’t write them off – especially if they get a positive result at the Etihad.

Arsenal vs. Manchester United (September 2)

Last season’s runners-up meet the team that finished third, so theoretically this is a match between the two teams most likely to beat City to the title this season. But both sides need to improve their squads to maintain the progress they made last term, and managers Arteta and Ten Hag have a big summer ahead of them in terms of recruitment.

Arsenal-United matches rarely disappoint in terms of action and significance and this one will be no different. It will give us a decisive clue about the prospects for the two teams in the coming season.

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Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur (September 23)

This will be Postecoglou’s first North London derby as Spurs manager. The Premier League’s first Australian boss has a tough task ahead of him when it comes to bridging the gap between his club and the Gunners.

Postecoglou faced a similar challenge in Glasgow when he took charge Celtic two summers ago after Steven Gerrard guided Rangers to a first title in a decade, he quickly turned the tables on the Old Firm rivalry. So the challenge of taking on Arteta and making Spurs the No.1 team in north London will not worry him.

By the time this game comes around, you can expect the new Spurs boss to have instilled a better mentality in his underperforming squad. Arsenal should be ready to face a different Tottenham under Postecoglou.

Manchester United vs. Manchester City (October 28)

It is now 10 years since Manchester United last won the Premier League title. They have not finished above City in the table in any of the seasons since.

Ten Hag has raised hopes that United will soon challenge again, but they still look a long way off Pep Guardiola’s City. But every new season brings new hope and if United strengthen well this summer, they could push City close.

However, this game will be an indicator of whether United can do it next season. With the season over two months old when this game comes around, this game could make or break United’s title ambitions.

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Manchester City v Liverpool (November 25)

Despite Liverpool’s decline last season, this game remains the one that defines this era of the Premier League.

No team has challenged City as consistently as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in recent years and they will undoubtedly go into the new season as second favorites for the title due to their pedigree and proven players such as Alisson, Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah.

Liverpool are undoubtedly going through a period of transition, but their impressive run of form in the closing weeks of last season showed they can still blow teams away.

So if Liverpool can return to their best form – fueled by new signing Alexis Mac Allister and any further summer signings – this game could be between the two sides most likely to win the title.

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