United meet Blackburn in early encounter

Phil Shaw on the likely highlights of next season's football fixtures, which were published yesterday
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Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United, who contested the Premiership title until literally the final kick of last season, face an early trial of strength in 1995/96, the fixtures for which were published yesterday.

Although the dates are subject to tinkering by television, United are due to visit the champions on 29 August. For both clubs - already the bookmakers' favourites - it will be their fourth game in an 11-day period. United completed a double over Blackburn last season, their matches bristling with controversy.

Kenny Dalglish's side, who return to Old Trafford on 10 February, begin their defence on 19 August at home to Queen's Park Rangers. Meanwhile, United open at Aston Villa.

Bruce Rioch's first competitive game in charge of Arsenal pits them against one of his former clubs, Middlesbrough. The Liverpool crowd have an early opportunity to assess the merits of their pounds 8.5m British-record buy, Stan Collymore, against Sheffield Wednesday.

The new campaign promises a strong Dutch flavour, with Ruud Gullit, now of Chelsea, due to face Bryan Roy at Nottingham Forest on 23 August. The fixture computer has also given Gullit and Dennis Bergkamp an early reunion, on 30 September, by which time both should be acquainted with the rigours of the English game.

Other highlights of the first batch of midweek games include Blackburn's trip to Sheffield Wednesday, who hope to have resolved the impasse over David Pleat long before then.

Tottenham's first home match without Jurgen Klinsmann is a re-run of Gerry Francis's debut as manager, a 4-3 defeat by Villa.

After last month's final-day dramas, when the fate of almost a dozen sides was undecided at kick-off time, the fixtures for 4 May will be eagerly scrutinised. Even at this range, the meeting of Bryan Robson's Middlesbrough and Manchester United seems unlikely to be an end-of-season affair in the old sense of the expression.

In the Football League, which kicks off on 12 August, three of the four relegated from the Premiership open with awkward away-days. The exceptions are Crystal Palace, who entertain Barnsley 51 weeks after launching a short-lived sojourn in the top flight by losing 6-1 to Liverpool.

Tranmere and Wolves, the beaten play-off semi-finalists, tangle, with Graham Taylor's team staging the first of numerous Midlands derbies in the First Division, against West Bromwich a week later.