David Moyes, in true Fergie style, has hinted towards some sort of Premier League conspiracy in relation to the difficult fixtures United have at the start of the season, claiming our former manager told him adjustments are made to the randomly chosen fixtures.

“Well the old manager told me those sort of things happened,” said Moyes, “I think it’s the hardest start for 20 years that Manchester United have had. I find it hard to believe that’s the way the balls came out of the bag, that’s for sure. But if it is a hard start for Manchester United, it is a hard start for everyone else because they have to play us.”

Rivals managers were quick to scoff at the notion that the fixtures were intentionally chosen this way for United.

“Was it a computer, or old fashioned with hot balls and cold balls?” said Jose Mourinho. “If it’s a computer, unless the computer has a virus, I don’t know.”

“The coincidence of the fixtures is part of being a champion,” said Arsene Wenger. “Sometimes you have a bit of luck, sometimes you have bad fixtures. That is part of it.”

Really? It’s a coincidence? I wonder if these managers believe that Super Sundays are a coincidence too, that they are randomly chosen by a computer, without any influence from the Premier League or Sky Sports? Several times a season you’ll have a United play City on the very same day that Arsenal play Spurs, or you’ll have two games of the top four playing against each other, and so on. This happens several times a season every single season. You don’t think Super Sundays are random luck of the draw do you?

The Premier League and Sky Sports alter the fixture list for entertainment purposes. Giving Sir Alex Ferguson’s replacement the 2nd and 3rd best teams from last season, one of those being our local rivals City, as well as our biggest rivals, Liverpool, who also happen to be the local rivals of Moyes’ former club, is bloody entertaining. We still have to play everyone twice and our difficult start allows for an easier run in. There’s also the possibility that Moyes gets some good results in these opening few weeks which would be fantastic for him and the club. But to think it’s impossible that the Premier League fixed it this way is silly.

One thing that can be proven though, one way or another, is Moyes’ claim that this is the hardest start United have had for 20 years. Is he right?

Below you’ll see the opening fixtures for the champions, focussing on the average league position of their opponents from the season before, and how many rivals they had to play in this time.

1993/1994 – Manchester United (1993)
Norwich (a) – 3rd
Sheffield United (h) – 14th
Newcastle (h) – Newly promoted
Aston Villa (a) – 2nd
Southampton (a) – 18th
Rivals – 0
Average – 12th

1994/1995 – Manchester United (1994)
QPR (h) – 9th
Nottingham Forest (a) – Newly promoted
Tottenham Hotspur (a) – 15th
Wimbledon (h) – 6th
Leeds (a) – 5th
Rivals – 0
Average – 12th

1995/1996 – Blackburn Rovers (1995)
QPR (h) – 8th
Sheffield Wednesday (a) – 13th
Bolton (a) – Newly promoted
United (h) – 2nd
Aston Villa (h) – 18th
Rivals – 1
Average – 13th

1996/1997 – Manchester United (1996)
Wimbledon (a) – 14th
Everton (h) – 6th
Blackburn (h) – 7th
Derby (a) – Newly promoted
Leeds (a) – 13th
Rivals – 1
Average – 12th

1997/1998 – Manchester United (1997)
Spurs (a) – 10th
Southampton (h) – 16th
Leicester (a) – 9th
Everton (a) – 15th
Coventry (h) – 17th
Rivals – 0
Average – 13th

1998/1999 – Arsenal (1998)
Nottingham Forest (h) – Newly promoted
Liverpool (a) – 3rd
Charlton (h) – Newly promoted
Chelsea (a) – 4th
Leicester (a) – 10th
Rivals – 1
Average – 12th

1999/2000 – Manchester United (1999)
Everton (a) – 14th
Sheffield Wednesday (h) – 12th
Leeds (h) – 4th
Arsenal (a) – 2nd
Coventry (a) – 15th
Rivals – 1
Average – 9th

2000/2001 – Manchester United (2000)
Newcastle (h) – 11th
Ipswich (a) – Newly promoted
West Ham (a) – 9th
Bradford (h) – 17th
Sunderland (h) – 7th
Rivals – 0
Average – 13th

2001/2002 – Manchester United (2001)
Fulham (h) – Newly promoted
Blackburn (a) – Newly promoted
Villa (a) – 8th
Everton (h) – 16th
Newcastle (a) – 11th
Rivals – 0
Average – 15th

2002/2003 – Arsenal (2002)
Birmingham (h) – Newly promoted
West Ham (a) – 7th
West Brom (h) – Newly promoted
Chelsea (a) – 6th
City (h) – Newly promoted
Rivals – 1
Average – 15th

2003/2004 – Manchester United (2003)
Bolton (h) – 17th
Newcastle (a) – 3rd
Wolves (h) – Newly promoted
Southampton (a) – 8th
Charlton (a) – 12th
Rivals – 0
Average – 12th

2004/2005 – Arsenal (2004)
Everton (a) – 17th
Middlesbrough (h) – 11th
Blackburn (h) – 15th
Norwich (a) – Newly promoted
Fulham (a) – 9th
Rivals – 0
Average – 15th

2005/2006 – Chelsea (2005)
Wigan (a) – Newly promoted
Arsenal (h) – 2nd
West Brom (h) – 17th
Spurs (a) – 9th
Sunderland (h) – Newly promoted
Rivals – 2
Average – 14th

2006/2007 – Chelsea (2006)
City (h) – 15th
Middlesbrough (a) – 14th
Blackburn (a) – 6th
Charlton (h) – 13th
Liverpool (h) – 3rd
Rivals – 0
Average – 10th

2007/2008 – Manchester United (2007)
Reading (h) – 8th
Portsmouth (a) – 9th
City (a) – 14th
Spurs (h) – 5th
Sunderland (h) – Newly promoted
Rivals – 1
Average – 11th

2008/2009 – Manchester United (2008)
Newcastle (h) – 12th
Portsmouth (a) – 8th
Liverpool (a) – 4th
Chelsea (a) – 2nd
Bolton (h) – 16th
Rivals – 1
Average – 8th

2009/2010 – Manchester United (2009)
Birmingham (h) – Newly promoted
Burnley (a) – Newly promoted
Wigan (a) – 11th
Arsenal (h) – 4th
Spurs (a) – 8th
Rivals – 0
Average – 13th

2010/2011 – Chelsea (2010)
West Brom (h) – Newly promoted
Wigan (a) – 16th
Stoke (h) – 11th
West Ham (a) – 17th
Blackpool (h) – Newly promoted
Rivals – 1
Average – 17th

2011/2012 – Manchester United (2011)
West Brom (a) – 11th
Spurs (h) – 5th
Arsenal (h) – 4th
Bolton (a) – 14th
Chelsea (h) – 2nd
Rivals – 0
Average – 7th

2012/2013 – Manchester City (2012)
Southampton (h) – Newly promoted
Liverpool (a) – 8th
QPR (h) – 17th
Stoke (a) – 14th
Arsenal (h) – 3rd
Rivals – 0
Average – 13th

2013/2014 – Manchester United (2013)
Swansea (a) – 9th
Chelsea (h) – 3rd
Liverpool (a) – 7th
Crystal Palace (h) – Newly promoted
City (a) – 2nd
Rivals – 2
Average – 8th

– The most difficult start to a Premier League season for the champions, based on the average position of the opponents in the first five games, was for United in 2011/2012. The first five opponents had an average finishing position of 7th from the season before.

– The start to this season sees United play the 2nd and 3rd best teams from last season as well as rivals Liverpool. At the start of the 93/94 season United had to play the 2nd and 3rd best teams, but no rivals. No other Premier League champions have had to play the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the first five games of the season. So Moyes is right, this is the toughest start that United, or any title winning team, has had for the past 20 years.

– The next most difficult start to a season for the champions was United again in 1999/2000 and 2008/2009, playing against the 2nd and 4th best teams from the season before. In both years we had to play against a big rival too.

– The least difficult start to a season for the champions was Chelsea in 2010/2011, with them playing two newly promoted sides and no team from the previous season’s top half of the table.

– The most difficult starts to a season for the Premier League champions, in terms of the average finishing position of the opponents from the season before, are as follows:
7th – United (2011/2012)
8th – United (2013/2014 and 2008/2009)
9th – United (1999/2000)
10th – Chelsea (2005/2006)