Old boys, boos, beefs, blonds and Bilic: the big 2015/16 Premier League fixtures to look out for
Liverpool vs Man City (Tue 1 Mar)
James Milner may not have the most chucklesome reputation, but he’s an old friend of FFT’s, and we can confirm that – in his own words – “I like laughing, it’s a laugh”. Presumably he’ll be hoping he can use his quiet tactical nous to aid whatever madcap schemes Brendan Rodgers conjures up to conquer Milner’s old Manc muckers. Besides which, being high-profile isn’t always the best thing, as Milner’s England team-mate Raheem Sterling has found lately. It’s not beyond question that the wantaway winger will be returning as part of the City team – in which case, the Kop would be sure to give one of their old players a warm welcome.
Newcastle vs West Ham (Sat 16 Jan)
After that infamous Dutch video – no, not that one – it’ll be interesting to see if Schteve has adopted any Geordie inflexions by the time he faces West Ham at St James' Park. Like an assistant in an ironmonger’s, arranging the Hammers that day will be Slaven Bilic, whom McClaren can thank for ruining his reputation. In qualifying for Euro 2008 (or not, as it turned out), Macca’s England were twice beaten by Bilic’s Croatia, with a little help from an unexpected bobble, a howling rainstorm and some red-faced goalkeepers. But even if a Tyneside January afternoon brings a monsoon, the Toon boss won’t dare use a brolly.
Bournemouth vs West Brom (Sat 7 May)
It’s all too easy to categorise this as the upstart aesthetes warily eyeing the well-drilled street-smart bruisers, but there’s a bit more to it than that, especially for former Bournemouth boss Tony Pulis.
In 1990, former Cherries defender Pulis was lured back from Gillingham by Harry Redknapp’s offer of a player-coach position – and when Harry left for West Ham, Pulis got the top job. Nothing earth-shaking happened – they twice finished 17th in the third tier – before Pulis returned to Gillingham, whom he led to promotion.
As for Bournemouth, they would drift along in the bottom two divisions for another 15 years until their own defender-turned-managerial-guru arrived: a youngster who made his Bournemouth debut six months after Pulis’s departure, was then signed by Redknapp at Portsmouth, and later given his own first coaching role back at Bournemouth. You keeping up with all this?
Arsenal vs Tottenham (Sat 7 Nov)
Could be Harry Kane’s first appearance at the Emirates Stadium. You’d presume, despite the Gooner links of his youth, he wouldn’t dare do the non-celebration thing.
Watford vs Liverpool (Sat 19 Dec)
The new ‘Orns boss Quique Sanchez Flores may not have much experience of English football, but he’s already seen off Liverpool. As Atletico Madrid gaffer in 2010, he despatched the Mersey Reds in the Europa League semi-finals, finding time to damn them with faint praise: "They probably feel they didn't play a good match but they fought and only lost by a narrow margin. Even in their worst matches they score a six out of 10, they never disappoint."
In the other dugout, Brendan Rodgers won't be showered with Christmas cards as he returns to the club he left in June 2009 after just 109 days – and, according to the then Watford chairman Jimmy Russo, barely a week after he had “assured me that he was 100% committed to Watford FC and our plan for the future”.
Instead, he jumped ship to Reading, where he lasted six months. At least that meant he didn’t have to return to Vicarage Road with his new mates, and before taking his Swansea team there in September 2010, he admitted that leaving Watford was a mistake: “I obviously don't expect to get a good reception from the fans. I'm sure it will be frosty." He was right: Rodgers was roundly jeered by the home supporters.
Manchester United vs Chelsea (Mon 28 Dec)
Arsenal vs Norwich (Sat 30 Apr)
On August 2, 2014, Alex Neil watched his Hamilton side beat Arbroath in front of 730 fans. There might be a few more at the Emirates, where Neil will go head-to-head with Arsene Wenger – as long as he stands on a box: the Scotsman is the top flight’s shortest manager at 5ft 7in, the Frenchman its tallest at 6ft 3in.
Bournemouth vs Southampton (Tue 1 Mar)
The lesser-spotted New Forest Derby: these teams have only been in the same division once since 1960. Goalkeeper Artur Boruc and midfielder Andrew Surman face their old team, while Eddie Howe faces perhaps the only Premier League manager blonder than him. For their part, Southampton fans have to decide whether to try to pretend they give a tenth as much of a damn as they do about beating Portsmouth.
Swansea vs West Brom (Sat 26 Dec)
As of yesterday, James Beattie is an assistant coach at Swansea. This means he can grapple with his old Stoke boss Tony Pulis, except this time probably fully-clothed and without any headbutts.
West Ham vs Chelsea (Sat 24 Oct)
Perhaps a musical interlude thereafter: Slaven Bilic (guitar) and Petr Cech (drums) both play in rock bands. Unless of course Petr is by then rocking a different stadium: after all, West Ham soon will be.