LONDON – Leeds' first game in the Premier League in 16 years couldn't be tougher: a trip to champion Liverpool.
The schedule for the new season was released on Thursday, with Manchester City and Manchester United not playing on the opening weekend to give them more rest after their involvement in European competition this month.
Liverpool can, therefore, get a head-start on two of its biggest rivals and will open its first title defense since 1990 with a match against promoted Leeds on Sept. 12, followed by games at Chelsea and against Arsenal at home.
The trip to Anfield for Leeds will be Argentine coaching great Marcelo Bielsa's first game in the Premier League after guiding what is regarded as a sleeping giant of English soccer back to the top division by winning the second-tier Championship. Leeds — a three-time English champion — was one of the country's top teams in the 1960s and 70s, won the English league title in 1992, and reached the Champions League semifinals in 2001.
Man City's home match against Aston Villa and Man United's trip to Burnley on the opening weekend have been postponed as a result of the agreement among all Premier League clubs for every squad to get a minimum of 30 days between their final game of the 2019-20 season and their first of the new campaign.
City lost to Lyon in the Champions League quarterfinals on Saturday, while United lost Sevilla in the Europa League semifinals on Sunday.
So, City's first game in the Premier League will be on the weekend of Sept. 19-20 at Wolverhampton Wanderers, with United starting at home against Crystal Palace the same weekend.
The first meeting between last season's top two teams, Liverpool and City, has been scheduled for Nov. 7 at City's Etihad Stadium, with the return game at Anfield coming on the first weekend of February.
The Manchester derbies will take place on the weekends of Dec. 12-13 and March 6-7.
Looking to wrest the title back from Liverpool, City has a difficult-looking start with its next three games after Wolves being against Leicester, at Leeds and then against Arsenal.
Similarly for United, after opening the campaign against Palace and at Brighton, the team must play Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal in three of its next four league games.
On the final weekend of the season, Liverpool will host Palace, City is at home against Everton, and United will travel to Wolves.
The season is starting about a month later than normal because of the late finish to the last one as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak. The 2020-21 campaign is scheduled to run through May 23, with the winter break — introduced for the first time to the English top division last season — put on hold for a season.
With competition organizers having to fit a full season into one less month, midweek matches are at a premium in the Premier League. The first four rounds of the Carabao Cup, for example, account for the first four midweek slots of the campaign.
FA Cup replays also have been scrapped for the season to further ease the burden on squads.
Premier League clubs are waiting to learn when they will be able to play in front of a crowd again, with matches currently held in empty stadiums because of the pandemic.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80