The fixtures for the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League season will be released on Wednesday at 09:00 BST, allowing Manchester United fans to plan the much-anticipated campaign ahead.
But how is the fixture list formed? The common perception is that a mysterious computer randomly draws each fixture but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it is actually the product of a detailed process that involves the scheduling of 2,036 matches across the top four divisions in England.
The compilation of the list is a joint venture between the Premier League, the Football League and an international IT services company called Atos Origin. Confused? Well, so were we, which is why we’ve done our homework to discover just how ‘random’ the fixture list is…
When does the process start?
Work begins at the start of the calendar year when FIFA and UEFA release their schedules for international matches. Premier League games are then slotted around those dates, as well as scheduled matches for European club competitions and the FA Cup.
What are the golden rules?
In any five matches there has to be a split of three home matches and two away, or the other way around. A team will never have more than two home or away matches in a row and, wherever possible, a team will be home and away either side of an FA Cup tie. A club will never start or finish the season with two home or away matches and, over the festive period, a team that is at home on Boxing Day will always be away on New Year’s Day, or vice versa.
Can United and City both play at home?
The short answer is no. Most clubs have a partner club who they cannot clash with due to the close proximity of stadiums. Obvious examples are United and City, or Liverpool and Everton, but it becomes trickier in London due to the number of clubs.
Do the clubs have a say?
In March, each club receives a letter that requires them to answer three questions: Are there any dates they wish not to be at home, which club do they want to be paired with and are there are any teams they do not desire to play at home on Boxing Day? The Premier League cannot fulfil all requests but claim to satisfy higher than 85 per cent each season.
How much is random?
Once the international calendar has been considered, and each club’s requests, the fixtures computer defines which dates each team will be at home and away before randomly attributing an opponent to each date. If there are any problems, then the whole process is restarted. For example, at the start of the 2012/13 season, there was a requirement from the Police not to play high-profile matches until after 8 September because of the Olympics and Paralympics.
Are travel times taken into account? The Premier League claims there is a conscious effort to prevent clubs from the same area travelling on the same train lines on the same day. They also make an effort to minimise travel on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, when public transport is limited.
Who approves the fixture list?
The Premier League, the Football League and Atos representatives all review the completed list over a two-day period, ensuring as many club requests as possible have been granted. It is still possible to rotate fixtures during this time, although altering just one match can have massive ramifications and may require 40 other changes across the top four divisions.