Liverpool face a difficult beginning and end to the 2010/2011 Premier League campaign. Apart from allowing us to open at home for the first time in seven years the fixture computer was once again cruel to Liverpool, providing us with a difficult close to the campaign, and a near impossible start to what could turn out to be a crucial season for the Merseysiders.
Whilst it is always good to be starting at home, we could not have been given a much harder task, as Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side visit Anfield on the 14th August for the first match of the new season. Last season Liverpool lost 2-1 at home to Arsenal, in a game that proved that football truly is a game of two halves.
Liverpool dominated the first half, and could have been several goals ahead, however we had to settle for a one-goal lead going into the break. When the teams came back out for the second 45 minutes the tide had turned, and an unfortunate Glen Johnson own goal swung the momentum totally in favour of the Gunners.
Another Anfield goal for Andrey Arshavin sealed the three points for the visitors, and left Liverpool wondering whether they would ever regain any resemblance of form or good fortune. The diminutive Russian must be licking his lips at the prospect of this opening day encounter.
It does not get much easier for us the next week as Liverpool travel to Manchester to face Roberto Mancini's City side. With City almost certain to spend an eye-watering amount of money on new players, and Liverpool unlikely to receive any significant financial backing from our parasitic owners, this could turn out to be a crucial six pointer only two weeks into the season.
If we are to fight for fourth position again then we have to get something out of this match, however, unless new attack minded players are brought in over the summer, I can see us scraping this one out in an attempt to glean a point from a difficult second match. Don't be surprised if the City game ends up a 0-0 bore draw just like last season's clash.
September throws up another two difficult fixtures as we face Birmingham at St Andrews on 11th September before facing our arch rivals Manchester United a week later. The trip to the West Midlands will be a tricky task, as Alex McLeish's men were strong and difficult to beat at home last season.
If they manage to maintain their level from last season then this could be a very difficult match for the Reds, however I expect Birmingham to drop a level this season, partly due to "Second Season Syndrome" and also because of the loss of their inspirational goalkeeper Joe Hart, who has returned to his parent club, Manchester City. Should Liverpool gain a good start to the season then we should have sufficient momentum to beat Birmingham.
The week after that we play United at Old Trafford. As always, that will be an incredibly difficult match, and, with the gulf in class that existed between the two clubs last year, maybe we should not expect anything going into that game.
Looking at these opening fixtures both excites and worries me at the same time. They excite me because if we can get a couple of wins under our belts against the bigger sides that we face in the opening matches then we could be on our way to a much improved display next season.
However, they also worry me because we could easily lose four out of our first five fixtures. Another season of pain and struggle could await Reds supporters. This fearful attitude, which I believe most fellow supporters share with me, demonstrates how we have fallen from the top echelons of English football.
As supporters we used to relish these highly anticipated clashes as we sensed the almost inevitability of victory. Now, most of us are left paralysed by the fear of defeat, and that, for me, was the worst part of last season. We started so poorly, and had an unreal amount of injuries, which shattered all confidence and form that we had, and led to us having an awful season.
We can only hope that the new manager, whoever that may be, provides life and attacking spirit to the team once again, so that they can go out and enjoy the big matches in the knowledge that we have the quality to beat our rivals.
The first Merseyside derby of the season is on 16th October as we make the short journey across Stanley Park to Goodison. I fully expect us to take maximum points from this tie as we have a magnificent record against our neighbours. Liverpool have lost at Goodison Park just twice this decade. However bad our form has been we always seem to find a way to beat the Toffees, and we should have too much for them once again this time around.
The fixture list for November echoes the fixture list for the whole season, as we start with a tough match at home to Champions Chelsea on 6th November before travelling down to the Capital to play Harry Redknapp's Spurs side towards the end of the month. Throw in trips to Stoke City and Wigan, places that are always difficult to go to, and November looks like another challenging month for the Reds.
Thankfully, the Christmas and New Year period is a time where we can pick up a high amount of points. We face Fulham (H), Blackpool (A), Wolves (H), Bolton (H) and Blackburn (A) from 18th December to 5th January. There is no reason why we cannot gain at least 11 points from those games.
Blackpool away on Boxing Day will be difficult, however by that stage most teams will have worked out how they play and have planned a way to gain victory over the Premier League's new boys. Blackburn away is another difficult trip, however we should be able to claim all three points, especially if we have developed a large amount of momentum from the prior matches.
We also have the possibility of several Cup matches and the Anfield Merseyside Derby to look forward to during what could turn out to be a very busy January. Should Liverpool manage to reach the semi final stage of the Carling Cup (something that is very unlikely based on recent results in that competition) and progress to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup then we will have eight matches to play. Whoever is the next manager must rotate the squad during this month with future Europa League games in mind.
Liverpool then visit Stamford Bridge at the start of February before hosting Manchester United at the beginning of March. Those two games could prove vital in the title race, even if we aren't participating in it ourselves this season.
Whilst a trip to Stamford Bridge is never easy, I believe that we can beat the Mancs at Anfield. With the home crowd in full support of the team, and our impressive recent record at home to Ferguson's side; another pulsating Liverpool victory over United could be on the cards.
April arrives, and so does Liverpool's tough run in. Manchester City visit Anfield
on the 9th before we travel to the Emirates a week later. Potentially tricky home games against Birmingham City and Newcastle United follow before we end the season with three incredibly difficult May matches. On 7th May we play Fulham at Craven Cottage. A week later Tottenham Hotspur are our opponents, and then we finish our campaign with an away match at Aston Villa.
All of those games are difficult ties where we could be dropping points. The same could be said for the start of the season. Liverpool must look to glean as many points as possible from these games, and pick up the bulk of our points in the middle of the season, where we face some of the teams we are expected to beat easily.
It could be either a glorious season where we bounce back from the disappointments of last year, or it could be another campaign where we never really hit top form, and are struggling to grab enough points to claim a top of the table finish.
Whilst the later seems more likely considering our current position, both on and off the pitch, we must walk with hope in our hearts and hope for the former.