by Dave Usher for ESPN
The Premier League fixtures for the 2015-16 season are as bad as they could possibly be for Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool face trips to Stoke City, Manchester United and Arsenal in the opening five matches and have the seven toughest away matches on the calendar, all to come before the end of November. No wonder the Northern Irishman is among the favourites to be the first manager sacked.
Confidence and expectation among the supporters may be at an all-time low. There is little or no optimism in the red half of Merseyside, with every move made by the club greeted by reactions ranging from strong scepticism to open contempt.
The mood darkened further with the release of a fixture list that could easily leave the Reds in the bottom half of the table going into December. The argument that the schedule can't be a handicap because "everyone has to play everybody else twice anyway" is severely flawed.
Timing can be everything in football, and you can never overestimate the effect momentum has on a team. Get off to a good start, and you're set up for the season. Get off to a bad start, and you can quickly find yourself looking for a new manager and writing off an entire campaign before you can say "Roy Hodgson."
Rodgers has been handed a stay of execution by the club's owners, but in the eyes of most fans he's still on extremely shaky ground. A bad start to next season could lead to open revolt.
Liverpool's first seven away games are as brutal as it gets, particularly given Rodgers' record in those fixtures during his time as Liverpool boss. In the 21 away games against those seven teams, he's won just four. That does not bode well.
His record against the current top four is equally poor: He has picked up just five victories in 24 attempts home and away. It's understandable, then, that one of the main criticisms leveled at Rodgers is that his team has lacked a big-game mentality.
Aside from an incredible four-month period from January to April 2014, when Liverpool turned into an unstoppable red juggernaut that flattened everyone in their path, Liverpool's record in high-pressure, high-profile games under Rodgers has been dreadful -- reaching its nadir last season with the no-show against Aston Villa at Wembley in the FA Cup semifinal.
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