Behold, a new season is upon us. With it comes a fresh schedule, a fresh set of fixtures and a fresh set of challenges for all 20 Premier League teams.
Yet it's at the top of the table where the challenges are most heated. Manchester United's rebuild is firmly underway with Louis van Gaal and some much-needed investment in midfield. Arsenal snared another big-money, marquee signing for the second summer in a row. Manchester City firmed up their title-winning squad from 2013-14, while Roman Abramovich finally gave Jose Mourinho what he always wanted -- a proper striker -- in Diego Costa.
Then you have the three teams hoping to keep pace. Liverpool, who are seeking to match (or better) their second-place finish, albeit without leading striker Luis Suarez. Everton and Roberto Martinez impressed last year but relied heavily on loans; can they find the same successful combination again? Finally, there is Tottenham, a team still trying to fuse in the wake of selling Gareth Bale.
Even though all 20 teams have to play each other twice, the flow of fixtures can often mean the difference between a title-winning charge and a costly swoon. With that in mind, what should the top seven look out for in 2014-15?
September slog: City H, Villa A, Spurs H, Chelsea A
The Gunners started surprisingly well this past season and dropped just seven points over their first 14 games to set the league's early pace. They'll need every bit of that energy in September, with Man City and their perennial North London rivals coming to town along with tricky trips to Villa (who beat Arsenal 3-1 in the 2013-14 season opener) and Stamford Bridge, scene of a 6-0 humiliation in March.
Festive fixtures: Liverpool A, QPR H, West Ham A, Southampton A
By Christmas, the table will be taking a nice shape, and after a December 20 trip to Liverpool, who ran riot in a 5-1 win the past season, Arsene Wenger's side face three beatable opponents in the crowded week of Christmas. Maximum points are vital here.
Summer transfer window roundup
- Premier League: Team-by-team ins and outs
- Transfer Centre: All the done deals
- Marcotti: Mind-boggling transfers
- Delaney: What did we learn on deadline day?
- Horncastle: European transfer grades
- Smith: Transfers more important than the game?
- Macintosh: We worship goals, not balance sheets
Last three: Swansea H, Man Utd A, West Brom H
If they're still in the hunt for their first title since 2003-04, the Gunners have a gentler run-in than most.
What to watch for: Between Jan. 31 and March 14, Arsenal will play seven successive games in London (four at home, plus trips to Spurs, Palace and QPR).
Here you go, Jose: Burnley A, Leicester H, Everton A
Two newly promoted sides in the Blues' first two games give Jose Mourinho every chance to start strong and pad their goal difference from the get-go. It's crucial that he has his well-stocked team in sync and in form.
Festive fixtures: Stoke A, West Ham H, Southampton A, Spurs A
These are four beatable teams, but Chelsea laboured against lower-table foes this past season, with a 3-2 loss at the Potters and a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane. Avoiding a Christmas hangover is essential.
Last three: Liverpool H, West Brom A, Sunderland H
Mourinho won't worry about Liverpool, having enjoyed derailing the Reds' title dreams late this past season. But again, the minnows' curse is all too real, as Chelsea took just five points from 12 against WBA and Sunderland.
What to watch for: Chelsea's opponents after their first four Champions League fixtures are Man City A, Arsenal H, Man Utd A and Liverpool A.
Capital gains? Two of first three (after Leicester A) are Arsenal H and Chelsea H
Roberto Martinez won't compromise his side's open, progressive style against any side, but back-to-back visits from London's best might force a rethink. That said, the Toffees won both corresponding fixtures last season and nicked a 1-0 win in September before toppling a demoralized Arsenal 3-0 toward the season's end.
Festive fixtures: Southampton A, Stoke H, Newcastle A, Hull A
Nothing too alarming here, especially as Everton took 19 points from a possible 24 against this quartet last term.
Last three: Sunderland H, West Ham A, Spurs H
Might hosting Tottenham on the season's final weekend be the difference between Top Four, a Europa League spot or failure?
What to watch for: Everton's second Europa League group game (Oct. 2) comes four days after a Merseyside derby and three days before a visit to Old Trafford.
Key European club fixtures
French Ligue 1 -- Aug. 8
FA Community Shield: Manchester City vs. Arsenal -- Aug. 10
German Super Cup: Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich -- Aug. 13
English Premier League -- Aug. 16
Spanish Super Cup: Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid -- Aug. 19 and 22
Spanish La Liga/German Bundesliga -- Aug. 23
Italian Serie A -- Aug. 30
August angst? Southampton H, City A, Spurs A
Brendan Rodgers' side will get no easy introduction to the new season and precious little opportunity to figure out life without Luis Suarez. Both the Saints and City beat the Reds in the corresponding games last year. A repeat could prove fatal before the season even hits its stride.
Festive fixtures: Arsenal H, Burnley A, Swansea H, Leicester H
The Reds won't fear much here, though Christmas was unkind last season, with defeats at Man City and Chelsea in the span of three days. Two promoted teams and the hit-and-miss Swans are a gentler prospect.
Last three: Chelsea A, Palace H, Stoke A
Two of Liverpool's last three games are against Chelsea and Palace, just as last season, when they collected just one point of six possible as they chased the title.
What to watch for: Facing Man City (H), Man United (H) and Arsenal (A) in the span of five games in February and March. Will their title campaign be over by then?
Tough start: Newcastle A, Liverpool H, Stoke H, Arsenal A, Chelsea H
Manuel Pellegrini kept his side calm and focused toward the season's end last time around; he'll need every bit of that zen in facing three of last term's top four in the first month.
Festive fixtures: Palace H, West Brom A, Burnley H, Sunderland H
Goal difference alert! A nice, festive spell to beat up on weaker teams awaits -- a nice mid-season respite from the pressure of being the defending champions.
Last three: QPR H, Swansea A, Southampton H
Any Prem contender will need a cushion by the end of April, given a trio of opponents presumably with little (other than relegation) to play for.
What to watch for: Manuel Pellegrini celebrates his 61st birthday Sept. 16, in between a visit to Arsenal (13th) and a home game versus Chelsea (21st).
Off to a flier? Swansea H, Sunderland A, Burnley A, QPR H, Leicester A, West Ham H
Louis van Gaal has time to settle his new recruits -- and himself -- with a slew of beatable sides in the early going.
Festive fixtures: Villa A, Newcastle H, Spurs A, Stoke A
Sir Alex Ferguson would have sneered at this quartet, but all bar Villa took points from United last term, all of which contributed to David Moyes' demise. Don't expect the Dutchman to accept a similar fate here.
Last three: Palace A, Arsenal H, Hull A
The tumultuous Gunners are a trap amid two softer foes at the business end.
What to watch for: Penny for Moyes' thoughts? A year after he faced Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City in his first five games as United manager, his successor will come up against each of the promoted clubs before the end of September.
Derby days to open: West Ham A, QPR H
Not much travel for Spurs might help cure what ailed them last season, as all of Daniel Levy's handpicked Bale replacements misfired in unison. A new-look Hammers side will be trickier than Mauricio Pochettino might expect.
Festive fixtures: Burnley H, Leicester A, Man Utd H, Chelsea H
Two promoted teams, two presumptive title contenders. Will Tottenham dictate the tempo or be serving as spoiler by that point?
Last three: Stoke A, Hull H, Everton A
Europa League football and the rigour of Thursday through Sunday fixtures will be a season-long concern for Spurs. Expect all three of their concluding games to be a challenge for a questionable squad.
What to watch for: Spurs' first away game this season -- West Ham -- was their final road game in 2013-14.