Sky Sports chief defends scheduling of Premier League fixtures on TV

England's top players will be involved in matches on the Sunday ahead of crucial World Cup qualifiers

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The Independent Football

Television chiefs have defended their decision to reschedule games involving some of England's top stars ahead of vital World Cup qualifiers.

Sky Sports and BT Sport announced their live Barclays Premier League fixtures this morning, and England boss Roy Hodgson's worst fears were confirmed with Sky screening both Liverpool's home clash with Manchester United and Arsenal's north London derby showdown with Tottenham on Sunday, September 1, five days before Hodgson's men embark upon their vital double-header against Moldova and Ukraine.

Chelsea and Arsenal have seen their games at Norwich and West Brom respectively put back a day to Sunday, October 6 ahead of the qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland, while even more of Hodgson's players could be in action on the Sunday before a potential play-off tie in November.

On Sunday, November 10, Tottenham host Newcastle - although Spurs can only play that day because they are in Europa League action on the Thursday evening - Manchester City visit Sunderland and Manchester United and Arsenal meet at Old Trafford with the two-legged international ties scheduled for November 15 and 19.

However, Barney Francis, managing director of Sky Sports, said: "We don't set the fixture calendar.

"I have great sympathy for the game's governing bodies in this country, trying to pull all that together.

"The Spurs game can only take place on Sunday because they are in Europa League action on Thursday. That game is an example - it was never going to be able to be played on Saturday because of the Europa League.

"I have great sympathy for the Premier League, the FA and UEFA. Not everybody can be pleased, but that's really one for the governing bodies to wrestle with."

Hodgson had requested that no high-profile league matches be scheduled for the weekends before the qualifiers in September and October in order to give him the longest possible time to work with his players on the training pitch.

But when the fixtures were published last month, it became clear that he had not got his wish.

However, the Premier League insists its schedule complies with FIFA rules, and chief executive Richard Scudamore was adamant earlier this month it was the world governing body and its European counterpart UEFA who were responsible for the congested fixture schedule.

Scudamore said: "It's our international confederations that have squeezed the calendar, not us, so we really get quite bristly at the idea that, with the fixture calendar, it's somehow us being the awkward ones."

Sky will show a record 116 live games this season, 43 of them by December 1, while newcomer BT Sport will screen 38, 12 of them during that initial period.

David Moyes' first league match as Manchester United boss will kick off Sky's coverage for the season when the Red Devils visit Swansea on Saturday, August 17, a game which will be aired free to every home in Britain.

The broadcaster will also be at Stamford Bridge for Jose Mourinho's return to Chelsea against Hull the following day and at the Etihad Stadium on Monday, August 19 when Manuel Pellegrini sends out Manchester City for the first time against Newcastle.

Sky has also selected Chelsea's visit to Old Trafford on Monday, August 26. The Manchester derby will be screened live from the Etihad on Sunday, September 22, as will the Wear-Tyne clash between Sunderland and Newcastle on Sunday, October 27.

South Wales will be the focus the following weekend as Swansea make the short trip to Cardiff and United will host Arsenal seven days later in a strong start to the campaign for Sky.

However, Francis denied claims that it had used its first picks to deny competitor BT the opportunity to launch its coverage in style.

He said: "We can't block them. There's a selection process that comes with the packaging provided by the Premier League.

"All we have done is exercise our right through that selection process and pick the games we wanted to pick. That's the long and short of it.

"We just try to pick the best games for our viewers at the best times across the three days of the weekend.

"There's been a lot of noise out there and the truth is it's actually made no difference to our football schedule.

"Now people can look at the fixtures in black and white and see what they are going to see on Sky Sports and feel that nothing is going to change."

BT's schedule starts with an opening-day visit to Anfield for Liverpool v Stoke, and highlights include promoted Crystal Palace's trip to United on Saturday, September 14, Tottenham v Chelsea a fortnight later and the Merseyside derby from Goodison Park on Saturday, November 23.