Usually, the season is a long old slog between August and May – a winding road, a looping rollercoaster, with the opportunity to iron out the creases along the way.
But not this time. This nine-game batch at the end of 2019-20 will fly by. In just over the course of a month, every team will be trying to snatch as many of the 27 points up for grabs as possible.
Royals boss Mark Bowen knows that his side have to start as they mean to go on – get a win against Stoke City on Saturday and set the tone for the remaining games.
“We had a friendly game against Chelsea last week – I found out afterwards that Chelsea had had a call from Derby and Stoke, wanting a video of the game sent through,” he explained. “Just like us really; everyone wants to see what the other clubs are doing, and to see what they’re like fitness-wise.
“Everything will come to light soon enough. We just want to get to next Saturday now – there’s a full week after that game, so all the more important that we hit the ground running and make sure we’re physically and mentally ready for Stoke.
“Normally, you get a chance to build yourself into the season. But you can’t afford that now – you can’t afford to build up slowly.
“From the first game, you have to be at it. Physically and mentally, to meet the demands of it – and try to get that momentum for yourself that gets you through those nine games.”