Belfast Telegraph

Louis van Gaal can ease into Manchester United reign

By Steven Beacom

New Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal will be licking his lips after the Barclays Premier League fixtures were released, offering him a glorious opportunity to kick-off his reign in style.

Last season, Sir Alex Ferguson's successor David Moyes had a nightmare start facing Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City early on. United failed to win any of those big games and Moyes was under fire straight away.

Van Gaal, currently managing Holland at the World Cup, has a much easier entry into life at Old Trafford with a home game against Swansea to start with on the opening weekend (August 16-18) before travelling to Sunderland and newly promoted Burnley with QPR to follow at Old Trafford.

Manchester City and Liverpool – first and second last season – have not been so fortunate.

City begin the defence of their title at Newcastle, then host Brendan Rodgers' men and Stoke prior to tasty looking affairs against Arsenal away and Chelsea at the Etihad.

The first Manchester derby of the season is scheduled for November 1 at City's ground.

Liverpool start with a home game against Southampton –Ronald Koeman's first game in charge – and will then face City. They also meet Spurs and Everton early on. Steven Gerrard and co will first come up against Van Gaal's United on December 13 at Old Trafford.

Chelsea, who finished third in 2013-14, begin by visiting Burnley while Arsenal host Crystal Palace. Tottenham – now managed by Mauricio Pochettino – face West Ham at Upton Park. The third match in London on the opening weekend sees QPR take on beaten FA Cup finalists Hull.

Championship-winning Leicester face a challenging start. A home match against Everton is followed by games against Chelsea and Arsenal. Alan Irvine's first Premier League match as West Brom manager is a home contest against Sunderland.

Meanwhile in Scotland, Premiership champions Celtic do not play on the opening weekend as their home ground is being used as a Commonwealth Games venue. Ronny Delia's first league game in charge of the Hoops will be at Tommy Wright's St Johnstone on August 13.

The first game for Rangers in the Championship is at home to Hearts on August 9.

Opening Day weekend fixtures: Arsenal v Palace, Burnley v Chelsea. Leicester v Everton, Liverpool v Southampton, Man United v Swansea, Newcastle v Manchester City, QPR v Hull, Stoke v Aston Villa, WBA v Sunderland, West Ham v Spurs.

Five games not to be missed: August 16 - Man United v Swansea (Louis van Gaal's United bow), August 23 - Man City v Liverpool (Entertainment guaranteed), October 4 – Chelsea v Arsenal (Jose Mourinho v Arsene Wenger plus Cesc Fabregas in a blue shirt), March 21 - Liverpool v Man United (Sure to be spicy), April 18 – Chelsea v Man United (Title crunch....will Mourinho try it on with LVG?). All dates subject to change.

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