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Thursday 20 June 2013

'We all get a buzz when the fixtures come out'

John Hartson and Ray Parlour cast their eye over the new Barclays Premier League season

  • Ray Parlour made 334 Barclays Premier League appearances for Arsenal

  • Parlour says he always looked for the matches against Man Utd and Tottenham

  • John Hartson played for Arsenal, Wimbledon, West Ham and Coventry

Fans around the country were busy checking their calendars on Wednesday when the fixtures for the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League season were released.

We spoke to former Arsenal, West Ham United and Wimbledon striker John Hartson and ex-Arsenal and Middlesbrough midfielder Ray Parlour about the key matches next season as well as what they think will happen in the new campaign.

As a player, did you look forward to the fixtures coming out? Which fixtures did you look out for?

John Hartson: Absolutely. I always looked at who we would be playing on the first day. It’s always a great fixture because you have worked hard during pre-season and you are really chomping at the bit while the fans are all excited because they have had five or six weeks without any football. I also looked to see who we were playing over the Christmas period, and whether I could maybe squeeze a trip home to see the family, as well as the final few matches.

"The release of the fixtures is always a massive thing and everybody loves it when they come out"
Ray Parlour

Ray Parlour: I always looked forward to it. The release of the fixtures is always a massive thing and everybody loves it when they come out. Everybody is excited and can't wait for 17 August now. My biggest one was the Manchester United match. They were our big rivals and we knew that if we could get four points against them, then we would have a really good chance of winning the League. We also looked at the north London derby and there was always the run-in. The last six or seven matches are so important. That’s when the pressure kicks in and you have to be really on top of your game if you are going to have a run that could win you the title.

Do you still get that sense of anticipation now?

JH: I do. I am working with the BBC and I will be at lots of games next season so I will be around all these grounds and it’s great to go back to my old clubs. I have still got great relationships with the supporters and the officials at these clubs so I very much enjoy it.

RP: Everyone gets a buzz when the fixtures come out. Everybody is excited, especially the fans of the newly promoted clubs. It's fantastic for those guys. I played at Hull at the end of my career and they have got a really passionate fan base and they will be all excited about getting back into the Premier League. The bigger clubs will look at every game individually. They won't be looking at a block of games and targeting a certain amount of points. It's not like that, it's an old cliche but they will be looking to win one game at a time and hoping that come March time they have got a chance of challenging.

One eagerly anticipated match is the Welsh derby between Cardiff and Swansea, what is it going to be like?

JH: There's going to be fireworks. I have played in countless derbies, the Old Firm derby, the north London derby, the East Anglia derby and the Black Country derby, but this is the game I would have loved to have played in. There will be a fantastic atmosphere at Cardiff this year, their fans make a lot of noise. It will be a fantastic game and I am sure that for the Swansea and Cardiff fans, this match was the first thing they looked for.

The north London derby takes place on Matchweek 3. Will it make any difference having the match at the start of the season?

RP: I don't think it really matters when you play, it's the results that are important. It's a big game and it’s an opportunity to beat one of your main rivals. The managers will be happy that they will hopefully have a full squad, barring injury from the first two games. Most players will be fit and ready to go. At that time you are just starting to get into the League then.

What are derbies and the decisive matches like to play in?

JH: It’s not for the faint hearted. You will have fans that are passionate about their club and as a player, these are the games that you want to excel in, these are the games that you want to score the winner and tell your kids. These are the occasions that you thrive on and as a player, you know you have got to stick your chest out, to have broad shoulders, get out there and show that crowd you can play in that atmosphere. Everybody wants the ball in training when there are no fans there but these are the fixtures where the top players really stand out, the ones who want the ball in difficult situations.

"There's going to be fireworks. There will be a fantastic atmosphere at Cardiff this year, their fans make a lot of noise"
John Hartson

RP: To be honest, you treat it like any other game. You approach in exactly the same way as if you were playing someone else. You get out on that field and you do your job. We would do the same things in training no matter who we were playing. The players have just got to know their jobs on the day. There is a little bit more pressure on you, I must admit, and a lot of it comes down to who freezes and who doesn’t.  As professional footballers you have to deal with pressure and get on with it. That’s why you are at the top level of the game.

Who do you think is going to win the Barclays Premier League title?

JH: Chelsea. They already have a great squad and have got fabulous players and the fact that Jose Mourinho has come back will give the players an extra 10-15%. He has done it before, he will be relaxed, he won’t feel the pressure and he feels at home in London. People say he was not a success in Spain, for me he was and I think he will do well at Chelsea.

RP: I've got a funny feeling that Manchester City will bounce back. Manuel Pellegrini will be organised, he is a good man-manager, he speaks very good English and he will be a team man. He won't be interested in the individuals. He will say: 'This is the right team for us to get us where we want to go'. It will be interesting. I think David Moyes will do a great job at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho will be up there with Chelsea but I just think Manchester City, with the players they have got, will be the ones to beat.

John Hartson and Ray Parlour were speaking at the launch of the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League fixtures. To hear Phil Neville, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ray Parlour and John Hartson preview the new fixtures, download the exclusive podcast at:

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