Chelsea favored to take title from Manchester City


Jose Mourinho is the Confident One, Manuel Pellegrini is the Hopeful One, Brendan Rodgers is the Big Spending One, Arsene Wenger is the Happy One and Louis van Gaal is the Wary One.

Two months after England limped out of the World Cup almost unnoticed, fans are rubbing their hands in anticipation of the most competitive Premier League campaign ever.

Seven points covered the top four last season, the leadership changing hands on 25 occasions. There will probably be even less room for error when the new campaign starts on Saturday.

To win the Premier League will probably mean dropping only 14 points, so any defeat narrows the title options.

All of the heavyweights have strengthened their squads during the summer, and while Chelsea is the favorite, there are valid arguments for and against each of the usual suspects.

Chelsea has invested £75 million on Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis, also bringing Didier Drogba back to Stamford Bridge for a second spell.

Mourinho is confident not just for this season, but for a decade of silverware. “We have the squad that we want to have,” he said. “It is a squad for tomorrow, for next season and also a squad with big possibilities for the next five or 10 years with so many young people. So I like my squad very much.”

Despite the arrival of Costa, the Blues are thin on striking alternatives though no club in Europe has two better goalkeepers than Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois, back from a two-year loan with Atletico Madrid.

Mourinho will not name his first choice until before Monday’s game against Burnley, though Courtois is likely to get the nod.

Champion Manchester City was restricted by Financial Fair Play on how much it could spend, its main transfer being France defender Eliaquim Mangala from FC Porto for £32 million.

“Five or six teams have the chance to win, but we have a stronger squad than last year,” said Pellegrini. “We hope we can repeat it, but we have to demonstrate that on the pitch.” City needs to keep goal-machine Sergio Aguero fit and hope Yaya Toure is over his birthday hissy fit.

Liverpool has spent the £80 million it received from Barcelona for Luis Suarez and £20 million more to bring in Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovran, Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic, Alberto Moreno, Javi Manquillo and Emre Can for a total of £100 million.

“There is a real excitement around the club,” said Rodgers. “It’s a team that plays exciting football. I’m happy with the players we’ve brought in and we now have a real identity.”

The Reds will miss 31-goal Suarez, but with Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Lallana and Markovic the goals will be more widely spread. Liverpool’s worries are whether, at 34, Steven Gerrard will still be the midfield inspiration of the past, while goalkeeper Simon Mignolet remains a weak link.

F.A. Cup winner Arsenal has more midfield talent than any of its rivals, and the addition of Chile striker Alexis Sanchez, plus defenders Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers gives Wenger more strength at the front and back.

Arsenal outplayed Manchester City in the Community Shield more conclusively than the 3-0 scoreline suggests and Wenger’s optimism is justified. He said: “With Alexis Sanchez coming, we have more attacking options than we have had for a long time. We always have high expectations, but we haven’t always fulfilled them. We are very ambitious and last season we went 128 days at the top of the Premier League, but were left frustrated because we couldn’t win it. Hopefully we will have a good chance to win the title this season.”

The most significant summer signing for Arsenal could be new fitness coach Shad Forsythe. Arsenal has a frustrating and inexplicable record of long-term injuries in recent years, and Forsythe’s priority is to keep the players on the pitch and off the treatment table.

It will also be a big season for Jack Wilshere, who has never kicked on from his early promise and needs to show he is as good as everyone predicted he would be.

If van Gaal can bring the title back to Manchester United with a back-three of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans, it would equal any of Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievements at Old Trafford. The former Holland coach has seven titles, four domestic cups and a Champions League on his resume so hopes have been raised by his arrival after the brief and unsuccessful David Moyes era.

Van Gaal realizes his 3-4-1-2 formation will take time to bed in and warned: “We may not see the best until the end of September.”

With a seemingly easy fixture list over the next six weeks United has a great chance to hit the ground running. There are likely to be further new arrivals to accompany Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw over the next two weeks, notably a dominant center-back, but there is enough class for the Reds to be competitive and not being in Europe will help its domestic cause as Liverpool discovered last season.

With 294 Premier League goals between then in the last 10 seasons, Robin van Persie and new captain Wayne Rooney should keep opposing defenses busy.

Everton, which paid a remarkable £28 million to make Romelu Lukaku’s transfer from Chelsea permanent, and Tottenham should lead the charge for sixth and seventh place.

New Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has been relatively quiet in the transfer market, but if he can inspire the underachieving Eric Lamela and Roberto Soldado — who cost a combined £56 million and had poor debut seasons — he will, in effect, have two new forwards.

Newcastle has the players for a top 10 finish, but the club continues to invent new ways to press its self-destruct button to the ongoing frustration of its fans. Newcastle could finish eighth or 18th and few would be surprised at either. Stoke was ninth last time round and the addition of Barcelona’s Bojan Krcic will give then more attacking potential.

Sunderland, Aston Villa, Queens Park Rangers, Burnley, West Bromwich, Leicester, Southampton, West Ham, Hull, Swansea and Crystal Palace will be relieved to reach the 40 -point mark which usually assures safety and another season with £50 million of television revenue.

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THE F.A. HAS banned all employees of clubs in the top eight divisions of English football from betting on the sport. Participants covered by the ban will be prohibited from betting, either directly or indirectly, on any football match or competition that takes place anywhere in the world.

Alex Horne, the F.A. secretary, said: “It’s a simple rule. It isn’t because we believe we have a cultural problem or an issue, but it’s a perceptive issue betting on football by people playing in football.

“It’s just part of our war on match-fixing. Integrity of the game in England is crucial for us and it’s what makes the English game so exceptional. It is completely trustworthy and we want to do everything we can to keep match-fixing out of our game.”

A sensible ruling, though many will be puzzled by the fact that William Hill is the F.A’.s official betting partner, while five Premier clubs wear the name of betting companies on their shirts.

English football wants bookmakers’ money, but does not allow those involved in the game to have anything to do with them when it comes to the national sport.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.