West Brom first up for Man United

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LONDON - Manchester United will kick off their title defence at West Bromwich Albion on August 13, the Premier League said on Friday when they issued the fixture list for the new season.

Runners-up Chelsea, who are still to name their new manager following the departure of Carlo Ancelotti at the end of last season, are also away on the opening day when they head to FA Cup finalists Stoke City.

Newly promoted Swansea City, back in the top flight for the first time since 1983, will get an immediate taste of the high life with a trip to big-spending Manchester City, who won the FA Cup last season, finished third in the league and will be appearing in the Champions League for the first time.

The two other promoted teams, Queens Park Rangers and Norwich City, play at home against Bolton Wanderers and away at Wigan Athletic respectively.

Arsenal, hoping to win their first trophy in seven seasons, have a tricky start, travelling to Newcastle United where they drew 4-4 last season after leading 4-0 at half-time, before matches at home to revitalised Liverpool and away to champions United.

Arsene Wenger, who faced some criticism last season for the first time in nearly 15 years at Arsenal, is not helped by his side having to play in the Champions League play-off round in August, having missed out on qualifying directly for the group stage after finishing fourth.

Last season's top two do not have long to wait before their first match against each other, with Chelsea heading to Old Trafford on the weekend of September 17/18.

United won a record 19th English championship, and a 12th Premier League title under manager Sir Alex Ferguson, last season and will start the new one as favourites with bookmakers Ladbrokes who give odds of 7-4 for United to retain the title, ahead of Chelsea at 5-2 and Manchester City at 7-2.

Liverpool, who improved under Kenny Dalglish in the second half of last season and are targeting a top four finish after two seasons adrift, begin at home against Sunderland.

However, Dalglish is unhappy about the timing of the new season, coming after midweek internationals.

"I would ask why the season is starting on a Saturday when there are friendlies the midweek before," he said.

"Clubs are doing their best to bring in good players and that usually means they are international players.

"There is a free week after the first weekend so I don't understand why we can't start the season on a Sunday to prevent players having to travel back on a Wednesday night in time for a Saturday start."

UNITED RE-BUILDING

United, beginning to rebuild after losing the 2011 Champions League Final to Barcelona, have brought in defender Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers, and as ever, have been linked to many others including Luka Modric of Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs, who finished fifth last season, are attempting to fight off all attempts to lure the Croatian away from White Hart Lane with manager Harry Redknapp saying his key midfielder was not for sale at any price.

Tottenham travel to United on the second weekend, which features several high calibre games, including Liverpool's trip to Arsenal and a north-east derby between Newcastle United and Sunderland.

Aston Villa, who named Alex McLeish as their new manager on Friday, despite the protests of fans angry at the arrival of the former Birmingham City manager at Villa Park, travel to Fulham who start a new era after the departure of Mark Hughes, with former Spurs boss Martin Jol in charge.

Opening fixtures: Blackburn Rovers v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Fulham v Aston Villa, Liverpool v Sunderland, Manchester City v Swansea City, Newcastle United v Arsenal, Queens Park Rangers v Bolton Wanderers, Stoke City v Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur v Everton, West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United, Wigan Athletic v Norwich City.