Big Guns first? Yes or No?
The question that many have wondered when the 2011/12 fixtures - the important list of dates we aren`t allowed to publish without substantial payment to some bloke with a mustache - were released, many Stoke fans wondered if it would be best to have the heavy artillery of the Premier League, such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, during the opening stages of the season in order to get them out the way first. Or is it better to have an easy, or at least an easier start to the new campaign and pick up the points as quickly as possible? A lot of fans are split, and some couldn`t really care less, but let`s have a look at this argument. Seems like a good idea at 10 minutes to midnight don`t you think?
Some will say: "Yes, get the biggies out the way first off". Why`s this? It`s mainly down to forward thinking and perhaps preparing for the worst case scenario. These fans will much prefer to play the big teams at the early stages of the season where points tallies don`t distinguish between those staying up comfortably, those hanging on to their Premier League status by the skin of their testicles, and those plummeting to the npower Championship, rather than playing them near the end of the campaign where every point matters. If Stoke were to find themselves in a relegation fight (God forbid), and if we`ve played the biggies earlier, we would statistically have more chance of picking up the vital points that contribute to survival playing the likes of West Brom or Norwich (no disrespect of course, in fact I offer the greatest respect in exchange for 6 points), than other teams who have a fixture run of the biggies near the end.
Assuming that you will need the points towards the closing stages of the season is a rather negative perspective, but it`s one that lets you have a Plan B in the back of your mind somewhere, or at least a false sense of security when you look at other teams who are fretting over needing wins from top four teams. It would put us in a stronger position to gain the points, and avoid any excessive nail chewing, premature receding and friction burn from the squeaky-bum-times.
The only downfalls with this are; starting the season with huge challenges for players who have had months off from regular playing time, therefore risking fitness and stamina of players, and opening our season with a couple of losses resulting in us sitting in the bottom half table. Then again, being thrown in the deep end can have a positive effect on players; they could be fired up and ready for their first match, using their well rested bodies to give 125% to the game, and find a considered lesser team easier to play against. Pros and cons for everything in all honesty, it just depends on which ones you pay attention too, unless you`re staring aimlessly at the glare of the monitor screen, then you`re not paying any attention at all.
Some will say: "No, we need the easiest start possible". Why`s this? It`s because grabbing the points as quickly as possible will help to build a solid position in the table and put pressure on others around you. The magical 40 points target is a tally that many managers in the Premier League will want to achieve as quickly as possible to gain that step closer to safety.
Chatting on our Facebook group, Vital Stoke fan Dave Sagar told us: "In the Prem, you need points on the board as soon as possible. Look at West Ham and all the sides who have gone down in the past. We need a good start because you don't want to play catch up. It's far too risky because at the beginning of the season you get freak results; Blackpool beating Liverpool, Burnley beating Man United."
I understand where he is coming from. There are underdogs who out-perform all expectations during the early stages of the season, purely because they are that excited about playing in the best, and most watched league, in the world. Likewise, top teams become complacent and do not fully appreciate the capabilities of these underdog teams on the day, mainly because they are new opposition and are still sussing them out. Also they think 'pah what an inferior side… I wonder what my sister-in-law is up to?`.
Playing catch-up is a tough game, and it can ruin stabilities in moral and confidence behind the scenes, especially if the pressure hits home and affects results negatively. Getting the points as quickly as possible will give a greater sense of security where the pressure to survive is less severe. The pressure then is reverted to those who fall behind you.
So which one would I go with? I`ll sit on the fence and say a mixture of both would be fine by me. Who knows what the best order of fixtures is, but surely this is not the only factor managers and fans alike depend on. There are other factors that are more important i.e. how the team performs on the day. Consistently poor performances and bad results will be the contributing factor to relegation, not the order of the fixtures.
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