Part Two of our look at the Premier League's six big hitters and the crucial season that lies ahead for each of them.
Read Part One
Chelsea: It’s hard to gauge just where Chelsea are at at this moment in time. Ancelotti’s reign turned sour, mainly thanks to a terrible loss of form in the middle of the season and the signing of the much maligned Fernando Torres not working out as it probably should have. It’s no secret that Chelsea are desperate to bring the Champions League to Stamford Bridge, but new gaffer Villas-Boas has to get Chelsea firing on all cylinders in all competitions. New signing Lukaku could prove a master-stroke, if he is utilised correctly he has the potential to be as good as Drogba has been. If the big money players, Torres and Luiz for example can really come into their own, then Chelsea could launch a real challenge, but at this moment, it seems the Blues are a little off the pace of the two Mancunian sides.
Key Man: Fernando Torres. At £50million, a lot of pressure has been placed on the Spaniard. Has to get back to his brilliant best.
Verdict: 3rd With the new manager, and the potential for improvement from the likes of Torres, Luiz, and Lukaku, probably better than last year. The problem is, so are United and City.
Manchester United: This season could be the biggest challenge to United’s crown yet. OK, so Arsenal and Chelsea have won consecutive titles and looked like they might topple United as the dominant force. But City’s rise has been well documented and well funded, and the first title will be seen as a huge milestone for the Blue side of Manchester. The Red Devils will need the new signings of Young, Jones and De Gae to come off. Young will add more attacking options, but Ferguson has struggled to replace the retired Paul Scholes, as main summer target Wesley Sneijder demanded a higher wage than United could offer, and so they may lack something in the centre of the park. United, like Chelsea will be as strong as last year. Will that be strong enough?
Key Man: Wayne Rooney. He is the talisman now, and the only real superstar on United’s ranks. Much of United’s game relies on his creativity and ingenuity
Verdict: 2nd A very strong team, but seemingly powerless to stop the machine that is Manchester City, if not this year, then next year, it seems inevitable City will overtake United as top dog.
Manchester City: And so that brings us to the possible Champions. Mancini has been criticised for a defensive game. Yet at the start of last season, ask any City fan if they’d be happy with a 3rd place finish and the FA Cup, and they’d have bitten your hand off. They have improved vastly, thanks of course to the funds pumped in by Sheikh Mansour and co. but money or not, you cannot deny that City look strong this year. As last season progressed you could see the Citizens players begin to gel, as their strength and physicality shone through. As well as the form of formerly bit part players such as Lescott and Yaya Toure, the additions of Clichy, Savic and Aguero, mean this could well be City’s year. It’s going to be tight, there is no doubt about that, but the difference is if it’s not all going well for City, come January, they have the cash to splash and make it right.
Key Man: Vincent Kompany. Kompany has become the determined, focused leader of the Manchester City pack. He organises and defends like a trojan. The fans, and his team-mates adore him, and the newly appointed captain, could be the one lifting the trophy come the end of the season
Verdict: 1st A strong team that has finally gelled. They combine the strength and industry of the likes of De Jong and Kompany, with the flair and skill of Silva and Aguero. The blue moon may well be about to rise to the top.
Of course, that’s the beauty of this forthcoming season. Everyone has a different view, a different prediction. It could be the tightest season yet. The fixtures are interesting, the signings are eye-catching, the fans are hopeful, the players are itching to get back at it. With less than a week to go, I think I speak for all when I say… Welcome back the Premier League, we’ve missed you so.