LUIZ FELIPE SCOLARI is set to be given a warm welcome by Chelsea fans when FA Cup winners Portsmouth travel to Stamford Bridge for the opening day of the new Barclays Premier League season — but the Brazilian would do well to invest in a travel guide of north-west England as he contemplates the first few away fixtures.
The new Blues boss — succeeding sacked Avram Grant will take on Harry Redknapp’s team looking for the best possible start.
However, Scolari, set to leave Portugal after Euro 2008, will soon get an introduction as to why life in the English top flight is like no other when his side must travel to the JJB Stadium in Wigan on August 23, then the City of Manchester Stadium three weeks later before a trip to newly-promoted Stoke.
Sandwiched in between those tricky fixtures is the small matter of a head-to-head with Alex Ferguson and the visit of his European champions Manchester United on September 20, subject to the tv schedulers, of course.
While there is no doubt the direct results between the big four — Chelsea host Liverpool on October 25 and Arsenal on November 29 — are crucial, it will be, as Scolari is set to quickly discover, what you do on a wet afternoon at Bolton or The Hawthorns which will ultimately make or break the campaign.
By the time Scolari takes on Arsene Wenger’s men at Emirates Stadium on May 9, there will be just three games left — and by then the fate of both clubs could be sealed. However, whatever the result come final whistle at Stamford Bridge on the opening day, fans across the nation can take solace from the fact they can only be three points behind the leaders.
Pompey are certainly capable of causing an upset, but have been handed a daunting opening to a season which will mark their first UEFA Cup adventure, with the visit of United second match up.
United, meanwhile, will begin the defence of their Premier League title at home to Newcastle, and must travel to Liverpool on September 13 before the showdown with Chelsea a week later.
The champions’ run-in could throw up a couple of tricky encounters, with the home leg of the Manchester derby on May 9 and the visit of Arsenal a week later before the campaign is rounded off at newly-promoted Hull.
Of the other newly-promoted sides, West Brom face a tough trip to Arsenal while Stoke travel to Bolton on the opening day.
While fans will pour over just how they might be able to spend St Stephen’s Day, when United head to the Potteries, and enjoy a good night out on New Year’s Eve — the first games of 2009 will be in the FA Cup third round — those club managers involved in Champions League competition will have more pressing concerns. United face exceptionally difficult games after every European tie.
They will open their defence in the middle of visits to Liverpool and Chelsea, while trips to Blackburn, Everton, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham lie in wait after Champions League outings two, three, four, five and six.
Arsenal fared little better, and must take on both United and Chelsea after matchdays four and five with just one game — against the Red Devils — at home from the opening group stages, should they, as expected, come through a two-leg qualifier.
Chelsea, with four home games and two away, have done much better, even if their matches are tougher — including showdowns with United, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Liverpool, whose manager Rafael Benitez complained more than once about the number of Saturday lunchtime matches his team played last term, has also benefited from a four-two split — but like Arsenal they must first again earn the right to play among Europe’s elite, with the draw for the final qualifying round set for August 1.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved