London: Manchester City, the world’s wealthiest club thanks to the largesse of billionaire owner Sheikh Mansour, will be looking to transform financial might into silverware this season.
Coach Roberto Mancini is expected to have big-spending City challenging for a title they last won in 1968 when the Premier League kicks off on Saturday.
The club’s ambitious owners will demand Mancini deliver a top four finish at the very least as the Italian enters his first full season in charge.
Chelsea, who won the FA Cup and League double for the first time last season when they scored 103 league goals, played some dazzling football under Carlo Ancelotti, and look well equipped to lead from the front again.
Ancelotti said Chelsea were hungry for further success. “I think the Treble is possible, there is no reason we cannot win the Champions League as well with the squad we have,” he said.
However, Chelsea have been unimpressive in their pre-season matches and Ancelotti needs to reinvigorate his men in time for Saturday’s kickoff against promoted West Bromwich Albion.
United’s bid for an unprecedented fourth successive title was thwarted by the London side but they served notice in last weekend’s 3-1 Community Shield victory over Chelsea that they intend to quickly win it back.
Manager Alex Ferguson, now 68, says he has no plans to retire and has every faith in his squad, only dipping into the transfer market to acquire the exciting skills of 22-year-old Mexican striker Javier Hernandez.
Ferguson, desperate to achieve a 19th league title for United and so pull clear of the record 18 they share with Liverpool, could make a bid for Germany’s Mesut Ozil of Werder Bremen but said on Sunday: “I have a great squad, I don’t need to add to it, but a lot of clubs would be interested in him.”
Central to United’s success again will be the form of Wayne Rooney, who looked forlorn in the World Cup for England, but if he shines up front, so will United.
Manchester City, who have largely lived in their neighbour’s shadow for decades, could well launch a serious title bid this season too.
City have been transformed by the millions pumped into the club by its billionaire Arab owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan since he took over two years ago, and along with Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and possibly a rejuvenated Liverpool, they will be attempting to break Chelsea and United’s stranglehold.
City finished fifth last season but have spent heavily during the off-season with Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure and Spanish striker David Silva arriving from Barcelona and Valencia respectively for a joint outlay of 48 million pounds.
Midfielder Jerome Boateng (from SV Hamburg) and defender Aleksandar Kolarov (from Lazio) have also cost hefty fees and with City still pursuing Mario Balotelli from Inter Milan and James Milner from Aston Villa, their spending could soar to over 100 million pounds by the time the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
Mancini is relishing the challenge ahead.
“It is a long time since Manchester City were the champions, but although we have a new side, we have a great squad and some great players. There is no reason we cannot challenge Chelsea and United,” he said.
The other contenders include Liverpool who won the last of their 18 titles in 1990 and Tottenham, whose last title came 50 years ago when they won the Double in 1961.
While Spurs manager Harry Redknapp said last week the club only needed two or three key players to mount a serious title bid, a more realistic target is getting through the Champions League playoffs and into the group stage and consolidating the hard-earned place they won in the top four last season.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes that the improvement at clubs like Spurs, Everton and City will make the title harder to win than ever before.
“I think we are well equipped to challenge again, and of course Chelsea and Manchester United will be involved,” he said. “I expect Liverpool to have a much better season than last season, Manchester City will be very strong, Spurs have improved, Everton look a threat, and I think the league will be much harder to win, I think it will be more of a challenge and I think that is better for everyone.”
Arsenal were last champions in 2004 and have not won a trophy since 2005, but they were given a massive boost when skipper Cesc Fabregas pledged his future to the club last week after being courted by Barcelona. The arrival of Marouane Chamakh up front should bring in more goals.
While the battle for control of Liverpool looks set to continue in the boardroom for a while yet, having former Fulham boss Roy Hodgson in charge of the team, strengthened by the arrival of Joe Cole from Chelsea and galvanised by Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard remaining with the club, should see them improve on last season’s seventh place finish.
Their major weakness though remains a reliance on Torres and Gerrard to be outstanding in every game, though Cole could take some of the pressure off the pair.
Blackpool, who last played in the top flight in 1971, will add a dash of colour to proceedings in their famous orange shirts but they will face a tough task to stay up.
Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, promoted straight back up after a season in the Championship, will concentrate on survival as will the likes of Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers and Wolverhampton Wanderers.