The new English Premier League season kicks off with the first round of fixtures this weekend – Fanzone details what to expect from the new campaign:
Key players: The departure of Ronaldo has left a huge void at Old Trafford and Red Devils manager Alex Ferguson will expect a big season from Dimitar Berbatov after an inauspicious start at the club. Ferguson’s decision to sign Owen raised a few eyebrows but the striker will have a point to prove after a disappointing period with Newcastle. And with places in England’s World Cup squad up for grabs Owen could be set to answer the critics who have deemed him a spent force. Chelsea defender John Terry resisted the lure of Manchester City’s millions to remain at Stamford Bridge and he will again be integral to the Londoners’ hopes of mounting a serious challenge. Liverpool’s chances of finishing one better than last season’s runners-up spot will rest with the Steven Gerrard-Fernando Torres axis. The pair only started 12 times together in the league last season and manager Rafael Benitez will hope they stay injury free this time round.
Mark Hughes will hope that new signing Carlos Tevez can help Manchester City get off to a good start.
Key clubs: All eyes will be on Manchester City after they bolstered their squad with several proven Premier League players and manager Mark Hughes will be under pressure to deliver results from the first game. It promises to be an intriguing campaign at the Emirates Stadium following the departure of some high-profile players. While all the attention will be on who replaces them the stage is set for British youngsters Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs to lead Arsenal’s challenge. Manchester United are favorites with the bookmakers to retain the title but how they cope following the departure of Ronaldo will be key to their fortunes, and the margins between the defending champions and Liverpool and Chelsea could be even slimmer. Birmingham, Wolves and Burnley have all been tipped for the drop but Stoke and Hull City both survived last season following promotion. All five clubs, and a Portsmouth side who have lost a number of key players, are set to be among the strugglers this time round.
John Terry’s decision to stay at Chelsea will be key to Carlo Ancelotti’s chances of winning rhe title.
Expert view: CNN’s Alex Thomas – “The consensus is that this will be the season when a new team breaks the stranglehold of England’s so-called ‘Big Four’ clubs Don’t bet on it. “Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have finished ahead of the rest for the last six years and there is no compelling evidence that it will be any different this season. “I don’t think United will successfully defend their title, although Ferguson will make sure his players battle hard to hold on to it. “When I interviewed Ferguson a week and a half before the season started he spoke openly about how much United will miss Ronaldo. “The world player of the year’s transfer to Real Madrid has left a gaping hole in Ferguson’s team, but he will use that as a tool to motivate the rest of the squad. “However, a record four English Premier League triumphs in a row may be beyond them and Chelsea under new boss Ancelotti are my pick to reclaim the trophy they last won in 2006. “The London club is packed with experience and, crucially, the spine of the team that performed so well under Jose Mourinho – Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech et al – should be back to its best after a couple of turbulent seasons. “Liverpool and Arsenal will be good enough to stay in the top four but not much else. This season is the 20th anniversary of Liverpool’s last championship title but I believe they’ll continue to wait for their next one, especially if Gerrard or Torres get injured. “Arsenal also lack strength in depth following the departure of Toure and Adebayor – although Wenger’s talented young side will, again, be great fun to watch. “Manchester City lead the challenge to England’s ‘Big Four’ and the club’s $260m investment in new players demands respect. “They will improve on last season’s 10th place but, realistically, their new-look squad will need time to gel. City’s captain Richard Dunne told me the players will have to be patient – and the same goes for their expectant fans.”