Aston Villa’s first ever Championship campaign won’t get underway for a few months still, but if you’re a nerd like me, you’re at least interested in planning ahead to see what a world where the Claret and Blues could actually, you know, win matches looks like.
We got a better picture of that yesterday, when the Football League announced key dates for the 2016-17 campaign, including the date of the fixture release:
We’ll learn Aston Villa’s fixtures Wednesday 22 June, when fixtures for the whole newly-branded English Football League will be revealed. That’s still a solidly-long wait, but that doesn’t mean we have to take too long to start planning holidays or whatnot, with the league campaign starting Saturday 6 August, a couple days earlier than last year’s start in the Premier League.
We won’t have too long of a break without meaningful football, with the EURO 2016 tournament concluding Sunday 10 July, just 27 days before the start of Villa’s league campaign. Granted, it’s unlikely too many Villans are in international play over the summer, but for those that are, it could complicate preseason training.
Another key stretch in next season’s campaign will be the three contests over the festive period, with matches on Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and 2 January, the bank holiday, completing a solid week of matches that’s a little better balanced than in past years.
The campaign will wrap up Saturday 6 May, exactly nine months after it begins, unless Villa qualify for the playoffs — the Championship play-off final will be held at Wembley on Monday 29 May, and for us American supporters, that’s Memorial Day 2017.
All I care about is that it isn’t the Sunday, because I’ll be at the best sporting event in the world.
The biggest adjustment from a fan’s point of view from the Premier League to the Championship might be the volume of midweek fixtures — in addition to the fun around the festive period, there were 10 midweek matchdays this year in the second tier, and we should expect a similar number this year.
And remember, that’s scheduled midweek matches, not the actual number — clubs making FA Cup runs, waterlogged pitches and other factors often increase that figure.
And while we don’t know exactly who’s going to be the 23 opponents Villa face in the league next year, we already know a few: Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers will headline the fixture list as locks for local derbies, while it’s highly likely we’ll add either Burton Albion or Walsall to that list in the next couple weeks.
Other interesting opponents include Nottingham Forest, who’ll contest the first ever match between European Cup champions in a second tier, Leeds United, who’ll fight with Villa fans over who the "biggest" club is and Wigan Athletic, who are set to return from League One in what was a favourite away day for many.
We know a little more about how Villa’s path back to the Premier League’s going to look — but we’ll know a lot more in a couple months.