Sir Alex Ferguson will need to get his re-engineered strike force firing early. Though the Premier League champions will face five of last season's top five clubs at home before Christmas – compared with nine away in the first half of last season – United face a profoundly difficult autumn with visits to Liverpool and Chelsea within a fortnight in October and November while also in the thick of Champions League games.
Ferguson suggested last season that some kind of conspiracy may have been working against United and this summer Ken Ramsden, the United secretary, has been involved in drawing up the fixture list. They have the makings of a comfortable start – new boys Birmingham City at home followed by a visit to Owen Coyle's promoted Burnley. But April presents them with Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea at Old Trafford and a visit to Eastlands for the Manchester derby, which suggests that leaving a title push late will have its challenges.
Liverpool are the ones who may feel conspiracies are at work, with their sixth successive away game on the opening day – this one at Tottenham Hotspur, against whom they concluded their last campaign. The Merseyside derby at Goodison Park follows the fifth Champions League group game on November 28, when Arsenal will also host Chelsea.
Liverpool find themselves involved in another "Big Four" encounter when Arsène Wenger's side visit Anfield just after the concluding group matches in early December. But their most challenging period – facing Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City in the space of 14 days – comes in February, before the Champions League knockout rounds arrive.
Ancelotti, has a welcoming start in English football, at home to Hull City, but his side are set to meet Manchester United between the Champions League quarter-finals in April.
Wenger's hopes of a more sustained title challenge are not helped by a difficult trip to Everton on the opening day – Arsenal's first away start since 2004. Ancelotti's first serious test does not come until Liverpool's arrival on 3 October.
The new Wigan Athletic manager, Roberto Martinez, has a difficult opener, at Aston Villa, while the man he succeeded, Steve Bruce, starts life as Sunderland manager back in Lancashire, at Bolton Wanderers. The Championship winners Wolverhampton Wanderers start at home to West Ham United and conclude at home to Sunderland.
(All fixtures are subject to change)
Other key dates
Wed 12 Aug: Netherlands (a, friendly)
Sat 5 Sep: Slovenia (h, friendly)
Wed 9 Sep: Croatia (h, World Cup qualifier)
Sat 10 Oct: Ukraine (a, World Cup qualifier)
Wed 14 Oct: Belarus (h, World Cup qualifier)
Sat 14 & Wed 18 Nov: World Cup play-offs
Fri 4 Dec: World Cup finals draw (Cape Town, SA)
11 June - 11 July: World Cup (South Africa)
Fri 28 Aug: European Super Cup final (Monaco)
6-19 Dec: Fifa Club World Cup (Abu Dhabi)
Sun 28 Feb: Carling Cup final
Wed 12 May: Uefa Europa League final (Hamburg)
Sat 15 May: FA Cup final (Wembley)
Sat 22 May: Champions League final (Madrid)Reuse content