11 August 2014 16:27
Aided by a pair of high-profile arrivals, Chelsea look set to provide the greatest threat to Manchester City’s Premier League title defence.
In Jose Mourinho’s first spell in charge, Chelsea won back to back league titles in 2005 and 2006, but the Portuguese failed to repeat that trick on his return last season as they ended the campaign in third place, four points shy of champions City.
Mourinho spent much of the campaign bemoaning his lack of quality striking options, and Chelsea were quick to address that during the current transfer window.
In securing the services of Diego Costa, Mourinho has added a forward who netted 36 goals in all competitions for Atletico Madrid last term, while he has also conducted what appears to be a shrewd piece of business by bringing Didier Drogba back to the club.
In Costa, Chelsea will feel they have the man to fire them to glory, while the acquisition of Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona should offset the loss of Frank Lampard’s goalscoring and creative threat from midfield.
It remains to be seen how Manchester United will fare under the stewardship of a second new manager in as many seasons.
Following the dominance of the Alex Ferguson era, David Moyes’ appointment proved a huge disappointment to all at Old Trafford, with the Scot failing to see out the season as United finished seventh – their lowest ever Premier League placing.
Louis van Gaal, fresh from guiding the Netherlands to third place at the World Cup, has impressed in pre-season, winning the International Champions Cup with victories over the likes of Roma, Inter, Real Madrid and Liverpool.
However, in working with much the same squad as Moyes, Van Gaal will have to show all of his managerial mastery if he is to bridge the 22-point gap that separated them and neighbours City last season.
City, meanwhile, boast arguably the strongest squad in the division, with Manuel Pellegrini enjoying a plethora of attacking talent at his disposal.
Pellegrini’s team held their nerve in the final weeks of last season, winning their last five matches to overtake Liverpool and claim their second crown in three years, two points ahead of the men from Anfield.
If they are to challenge as closely this time around, Liverpool must learn to cope without the inspirational Luis Suarez.
The Uruguayan has departed for Barcelona after a scintillating 2013-14, in which he scored 31 Premier League goals and struck up a lethal partnership with Daniel Sturridge.
A 2-0 defeat to Chelsea and a 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace – having led 3-0 – cost Liverpool dearly last season, and another club likely to be wistfully asking ‘what if’ are Arsenal, who topped the table for long periods of the campaign only to fall away in what has become a seemingly customary spring-time implosion.
Arsenal fans will have at least been appeased by the FA Cup triumph over Hull City in May, while the capture of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona suggests Arsene Wenger’s club-record signing of Mesut Ozil last year was not a one-off from a manager who is famed for his prudence in the transfer market.
Everton, who just missed out on UEFA Champions League qualification last term by finishing fifth, have smashed their transfer record for Romelu Lukaku and will hope to go one better this time around, while Mauricio Pochettino has swapped Southampton for Tottenham.
The three promoted sides see two new faces to Premier League management – and one very familiar one.
Nigel Pearson’s Leicester City were comfortable Championship winners in 2013-14, while Sean Dyche’s Burnley surprised many by finishing runners-up despite having one of the smallest squads in the division.
QPR, under the wily leadership of Harry Redknapp, were able to bounce back at the first available opportunity via the play-offs, while the likes of Alan Irvine at West Brom will also take to top-flight management for the first time.
Meanwhile, another new face will be seen at Southampton as Ronald Koeman attempts to perform well with a squad shorn of the likes of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw and Dejan Lovren.