Every year, when the Premier League fixtures are announced, fans spend hours poring over the details and arguing about who has been dealt the best hand. At the end of the season, every team will have played each other twice but there is an argument to be had whether the scheduling of the games can give one team an advantage over another. So, how are the fixtures decided? And can the order of play really influence the overall course of a team’s season?
Happy #PLFixtures day
All 380 matches for the 2021/22 season are out now
— Premier League (@premierleague) June 16, 2021
The release of the fixture list is often accompanied by cries of conspiracy amongst fans. This usually revolves around a certain team having a particularly easy start or run-in, or a favourable set of games over the busy Christmas period. Just browse through social media on the day the games are announced and you’ll see a familiar pattern of comments. Yet, the process to select games does not weight any favour towards a particular team, although there are several factors that determine when certain fixture fixtures may or may not take place.
Deciding the Dates
Before the process of fixture selection can begin, the playing dates must be decided. In order to do this, the dates for international games from FIFA, European club competitions from UEFA and cup competitions from the FA are confirmed earlier in the year. The Premier League fixtures and League Cup games must then be arranged around these dates. The selection team must then wait until the final composition of the league is confirmed after the conclusion of the Football League play-offs.
The Selection Method
This process to select the fixtures is known as ‘sequencing.’ The method breaks the fixtures into five sets and the order of the sets is then reversed in the second half of the season. The algorithms of the system are designed to ensure that in any run of five matches, a team should have three home games and two away games or three away games and two home games. It must also avoid clubs in near proximity from playing at home on the same day – these clubs are known as partner clubs.
Obvious examples would be Liverpool and Everton or Manchester United and Manchester City. So, if Liverpool are at home, Everton must play away on that day and vice versa. This system becomes more complex and less obvious in London because of the number of teams but a partner club system is still used where possible, often at the request of the clubs themselves.
For games over the festive period, any team that is playing at home on Boxing Day should play away on New Year’s Day and vice-versa. The method also ensures that a team never plays more than two home or away games in a row and they that they don’t start or finish the season with two home or away games in a row. Where possible, a team will play home and away either side of an FA Cup tie.
In addition to all this, teams may request certain dates they do not want to play at home because of clashes with other events or activities in their town or city. These requests are made in conjunction with local police forces. Teams may also request to avoid hosting certain teams on Boxing Day. Not all requests can be satisfied and they must be prioritised by the clubs to make selection easier.
The Review Process
Once all the information is gathered, the initial home and away dates of all the teams can then be loaded into the fixture computer, which then randomly mixes them up to decide who faces who on each date. When the fixture list has been decided, it enters a review process which can take several days. The review process involves all the clubs, the FA and a representative from the Football Supporters’ Federation.
This is to ensure that all requests have been met where possible and to make any changes if necessary. Changing just one fixture can have a knock-on effect that requires dozens of other changes. In some cases, the process is started again and a new set of fixtures is produced until all the criteria have been satisfied. At this point, the fixture list can be signed off and scheduled for release.
A Key Day for Football & Betting Fans
The release of the fixtures is an exciting moment for fans but also an important time for punters. The betting guide at asiabet.org states that bookmakers create more markets for the Premier League than other major leagues. This means the league also attracts the largest volume of wagering.
The shrewdest punters look at all the data available – including the fixture list – before backing certain markets such as ‘Premier League Winner,’ ‘Team to be relegated’ or ‘Team to Avoid Relegation.’ For example, when deciding which of the newly-promoted teams will avoid the drop, a punter might analyse which of them has the best start or run-in before making a decision. Looking at data can sometimes reveal patterns that can be related to certain sequences of fixtures.
For many fans, the big games against their rivals are the first thing they look out for. Arsenal and Spurs fans look out for their derby games as do fans of Liverpool and Manchester United whose derby is one of the biggest in the world aside from Spain’s El Clasico as we have covered previously here on thecourierdaily.com. For fans of promoted teams, the games against the traditional big teams are often the first thing marked on their calendars.
BREAKING: Norwich City get a tough start to life back in the Premier League:
✈️ Manchester City
— Michael Bailey (@michaeljbailey) June 16, 2021
Dispelling the Conspiracy Myth
With such a complicated process and with so many factors to consider, it is impossible to produce a list that keeps everybody 100% happy. But it also dispels any myths that the list is somehow produced to favour certain teams. To do so would be virtually impossible considering the complexity of the sequencing and the thoroughness of the review process.
Having said that, there is still a case to be made that the fixture list can influence the course of a league season. Having a favourable run of fixtures at the start of the campaign could help a team build confidence and gain momentum. But there are no guarantees and the method used to select the fixtures aims to keep the playing field as level as possible.