London: Chelsea begin the defence of their Premier League title on Saturday at home to new boys West Brom having spent a “mere” five million pounds in pre-season.
When Baggies boss Roberto di Matteo was a Chelsea player that was still a sizeable sum of money and there is something grimly amusing about the London club, who have enjoyed success on the back of Russian owner Roman Abramovich’s billions, being outspent in the transfer market.
But with former Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun the lone new arrival at Stamford Bridge, that has certainly been the case with Manchester City, underpinned by Gulf money, spending a colossal 85 million pounds.
City’s spending is likely to continue with the prospect of the likes of England winger James Milner still coming to Eastlands before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
Whether spending quite so much money will give City the ‘instant’ success their owners seek remains to be seen in a league where their local rivals Manchester United are still a formidable force.
Chelsea look like an ageing team but modern training methods are fast forcing a re-evaluation of what older players can do and Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti said: “The players will be better this season because they have one year more experience, like me.
“I’m not older. I’m more experienced. I am a better manager now. I had more doubt last year when I started.”
Chelsea ended United’s three-year grip on the Premier League trophy last term and in the process denied Sir Alex Ferguson’s team a record 19th English title as the monopoly of the ‘Big Four’ came under threat.
“Things definitely changed last season - it was a different league altogether,” Ferguson said.
“The top four found it difficult and dropped points in games they wouldn’t have expected to.
“That’s an indication of the improvement made by other teams, and I think there’ll be a bit of a dogfight for the top four places this season.
“We all have to be aware of the threats from the likes of (Aston) Villa, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester City.”
Not since 1968 have City been crowned champions of England and they start the season away to Tottenham, who pipped them for fourth spot and a lucrative Champions League place last term, on Saturday with World Cup-winning Spain winger David Silva and Yaya Toure, brother of Kolo, among the new arrivals.
Liverpool begin the season at home to Arsenal in what could be a pivotal season for both clubs.
Last time out, Liverpool dropped from runners-up to seventh amidst a background of boardroom uncertainty.
Doubts over the future ownership of the club remain but new Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has at least managed to keep the likes of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres on board, while Joe Cole has joined from Chelsea.
Arsenal continued to win plaudits for the quality of their football but there were signs of frustration among some Gunners’ supporters last season with the club not having won a major trophy since the 2005 FA Cup and the Premier League since 2004.
Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s long-serving manager, has repeatedly forecast a brilliant future for a largely youthful team.
But at some point the future has to become the present and an optimistic Wenger said: “We finished third last season, so we have two stairs to climb and I am confident we can do it.”
In other opening round matches, Aston Villa will try to put the resignation of former manager Martin O’Neill behind them when they face West Ham while Saturday also sees Blackburn against Everton, Bolton playing Fulham, newboys Blackpool up against Wigan and Wolves playing Stoke.
Manchester United play promoted Newcastle on Monday.
Fixtures (1400GMT unless stated):
Aston Villa v West Ham, Blackburn v Everton, Bolton v Fulham, Chelsea v West Brom (1630GMT), Sunderland v Birmingham, Tottenham v Man City (1145GMT), Wigan v Blackpool, Wolves v Stoke
Liverpool v Arsenal (1500GMT)
Manchester United v Newcastle (1900GMT)