As is always the case, this season's fixtures threw up very few surprises in terms of who some of the top sides are playing on the opening weekend of the season. Champions Manchester United visit my club, West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea face a difficult-looking trip to Stoke City, Arsenal have an away game at Newcastle United to look forward to, Liverpool host Sunderland at Anfield, and Manchester City welcome newly-promoted Norwich City to Eastlands on the opening weekend.
Although the fixtures are obviously generated randomly from the fixture computer, Albion have now faced the previous season's Premier League champions on the first week of the season in both campaigns since we returned to the Premier League. This is incredibly unfortunate, and Baggies fans will be hoping we perform better than we did in our 6-0 opening-day defeat at Stamford Bridge last season in front of the ESPN cameras.
Some games for Albion fans to look out for are:
Albion v Manchester United - Saturday 13th August
A very difficult way to start the season, but a challenge which I'm sure Roy Hodgson and the players will relish. Manchester United are stereotypically slow starters in the league season and with the number of players they are supposed to be signing this summer, playing them early on may mean that their new players will not have had time to gel and may drop a few points as a result. Albion fans will be hoping for a repeat of the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in October of last season, as two of the scrappiest goals of the season saw us come back from 2-0 down.
Chelsea v Albion - Saturday 20th August
Our second game of the season is equally difficult, but is one to look forward too nonetheless. There is very little pressure going into games such as a trip to Stamford Bridge and especially if we are able to get a result against Manchester United the week before, there will be plenty of reasons to travel to West London with some optimism of getting a result, or at least avoiding a demoralising defeat like last season. There were very few positives to draw from our two matches against Chelsea last season, but Peter Odemwingie's impressive finish to put Albion 1-0 up at The Hawthorns showed that we do have a player who is capable of causing their back four problems.
Albion v Stoke City - Saturday 27th August
As you can tell, each of our first three games are big matches and are games which would have stood out to supporters when the fixtures were released. Stoke City are a side who we rarely do well against and who have enjoyed a brilliant record against us in recent years, particularly at The Hawthorns. However, we picked up a point at the Britannia Stadium under Roy Hodgson in February thanks to a late equaliser from Carlos Vela, so Albion fans will be hoping that this goal ended our losing sequence against Stoke City and maybe even set a trend for future results!
Albion v Wolves (Saturday 15th October) and Wolves v Albion (Saturday 11th February)
These were undoubtedly the first two games most Albion fans looked for on the fixture list, particularly after our disappointing 3-1 defeat at Molineux towards the end of last season. In the most part, our record against Wolves in recent years has been very impressive and Albion fans will be hoping that the result at Molineux was only a slight blip on that record. There was one main positive moment last season against our local rivals, with an equaliser from Carlos Vela in the last minute of injury-time helping us to a 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns in Roy Hodgson's first match in charge.
Aston Villa v Albion (Saturday 22nd October) and Albion v Villa (Saturday 28th April)
After the Wolves games, these are probably the other games which Albion supporters were most keen to look for. Last season saw us experience both sides of derby-day football against Aston Villa, as we followed a 2-1 defeat at Villa Park with a 2-1 victory at The Hawthorns towards the end of the season in a result which essentially secured our Premier League survival. The manner in which we won the game at The Hawthorns - with a late winner after going down to ten men with over 30 minutes left to play - was particularly impressive, and ended a 25-year win-less record against our local rivals.
Liverpool v Albion (Saturday 21st April)
A trip to Anfield takes on added significance now Roy Hodgson is our manager. It was clear from the reception that Hodgson received from the travelling Liverpool fans at The Hawthorns last season that he is not particularly popular with them after his disappointing spell with the club at the beginning of last season, although he has since gone on to prove with Albion that perhaps it was just a case of "right job at the wrong time" for the experienced Head Coach. After masterminding a 2-1 victory over his former club last season, maybe he can do it again at the ground where he endured some harsh treatment from the Liverpool fans?
Albion v Arsenal - Sunday 13th May
This is a very tough game to end the season with, although I'm sure Albion fans will be hoping that nothing is riding on this game! We put in two of our best performances of last season against Arsenal, with a 3-2 win at The Emirates Stadium being followed by a 2-2 draw at The Hawthorns. Even if Arsenal are unable to strengthen their squad significantly this summer, they should still be competing for a place in the top four at the very least, and so this game could have huge connotations for a number of different factors.
Of course, Albion fans will have their own particular games which they will have identified on the fixture list as ones they are looking forward too, but these are some of the games which immediately stood out to me and which probably stood out to a number of other Albion fans when they first observed the fixtures.