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Last Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Alan Hansen's column
Alan Hansen
By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Danny Webber (left) celebrates with Sheffield United goalscorer Rob Hulse
The last thing the big clubs want is an away trip to a promoted side to start the season

Chelsea and Manchester United must have breathed a sigh of relief when the fixture list for this season came out.

The big clubs, the ones who expect to be challenging for trophies come March and April, always leave themselves a bit short at the start of the season so what they want is to open their campaign at home against a mid-table side.

The last thing they want is an away trip to a promoted side, which is exactly the challenge Liverpool faced against Sheffield United on Saturday.

The promoted club is usually flying at the start of the season. You've got that surge of energy from the previous season, the fitness levels are high and there's a buzz of anticipation around the place.

Come November, it's usually a different story and they're a bit softer after being beaten a few times.

The most important thing for any team, promoted or otherwise, playing one of the big clubs is not to concede an early goal.

Fulham were 4-0 down inside 20 minutes while Manchester City went behind after 11 minutes and there was no way back.

On the other hand, Aston Villa, who drew 1-1 against Arsenal, and Sheffield United managed to keep it 0-0 until half-time and they gradually started to believe they could get a result.

But if I was a fan of City or Fulham, I would say it's far too early to be concerned.

Fulham were particularly poor against United but their manager Chris Coleman will have looked at the first three games and probably targeted at least four points.

Theo Walcott came on and did well, nothing more

They've got two home games on Wednesday and Saturday, against Bolton and then Sheffield United, and if they can get those four points, they'll be satisfied.

Along with the three promoted teams, there are probably at least five or six other clubs who could struggle this season and Fulham could be one of them.

But they showed last year that when they got it together they were capable of winning games, especially at home.

As for the three newcomers, Sheffield United were really organised, Reading are pacy up front and look like they'll score goals while Watford were a tad unlucky to lose to a contentious penalty against Everton.

But it's obviously far too early to say what the future holds for them and we'll know more after six or eight games.

  • Incidentally, a lot seems to have been made of Theo Walcott's performance on his Arsenal debut - but I'm not convinced yet.

    He came on when Villa were under the cosh. They had defended heroically for a long time and they were tired. Walcott came on and did well, nothing more.

    For anyone who is now thinking he's a world beater, the big test is whether he starts the next league game. I think that's very unlikely, but we'll see.

    Chelsea 3-0 Man City
    20 Aug 06 |  Premiership
    Everton 2-1 Watford
    19 Aug 06 |  Premiership
    Man Utd 5-1 Fulham
    20 Aug 06 |  Premiership
    Reading 3-2 Middlesbrough
    19 Aug 06 |  Premiership
    Sheffield United 1-1 Liverpool
    19 Aug 06 |  Premiership


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