PICTURE the scene. It’s May 13, 2012, and the Liberty Stadium, Swansea is awash with red. The home side have recently secured survival in their first top-flight campaign since 1984, and are in the mood to party, not to play football.
The visitors, on the other hand, know a point will be enough to give them their first League Championship in 22 years. Having seen off Chelsea in their final home game, Liverpool supporters have travelled to South Wales in their thousands, eager to see Steven Gerrard, at long last, get his hands on that Premier League trophy.
Yes, it’s that time of year again, when football fans start to dream. If they ever stopped, that is.
The fixture computer – completely random, of course – has had its say on the new Premier League campaign, and supporters are now plotting their way around the 2011/12 season; writing the stories, fearing the worst, predicting the outcomes, hoping for the best.
Of course the release of the new season’s fixtures is, typically of the Premier League era, over-hyped. After all, everyone knows that they will have to face the other 19 teams twice and that, generally, home games will be followed by away ones. Nothing new there.
But still there is something special about seeing that schedule in black and white. It allows supporters to start mentally preparing for the new campaign, to start looking forward to the derby matches of October and February, to that midweek trip to Wigan (honest), to that New Year’s Eve aperitif against Newcastle and, most importantly, to that potentially historic May afternoon at Swansea.
For Jordan Henderson, too, there is the prospect of an instant reunion with the Sunderland side he left behind earlier this month. A typical quirk of fate means Liverpool’s new £16m midfielder will line up for his new club as they welcome Steve Bruce’s men to Anfield on the opening day of the campaign on August 13.
That game is followed by the first of Liverpool’s ‘crunch’ clashes, a visit to the Emirates – the only Premier League ground, other than the Liberty Stadium, at which the Reds have never won – to face Arsenal.
Gerrard was yesterday quick to stress the importance of a good start to the new campaign. “It’s important to hit the ground running if you want to compete for the title,” said the skipper. “You can’t afford any slip-ups early on.”
He is right. The last two seasons underline Gerrard’s point neatly.
After finishing runners-up in 2009 under Rafael Benitez, losing just two league games all season, Liverpool’s title challenge was undone the following season by two defeats in their opening three matches. Shorn of belief they, and arguably Benitez, never recovered, finishing seventh.
Likewise, the less said about last season, when the Reds began the campaign with a run of one win in their opening eight matches – their worst start to a season since 1953/54 – the better.
Momentum is an under-rated commodity in football, and a poor start can be hard to leave behind. Everton, for example, found in the past two campaigns that even a superb post-Christmas run was not enough to secure them a European berth. Similarly, Liverpool’s renaissance under Dalglish, in which their form bettered that of champions Manchester United, failed to see them overhaul Spurs into fifth spot. But equally a good start can evolve into a good autumn, and from there the possibilities are endless.
Liverpool fans can be forgiven for dreaming up a few between now and August 13.