New managers, new players, new technology. The Premier League is finally back this weekend and it promises to be one of the most compelling seasons in recent memory.
The campaign starts with so many questions, so much unknown. Can David Moyes win the title in his first season as Manchester United manager? Will Jose Mourinho manage to repeat his previous success at Chelsea? Is Manuel Pellegrini the man to bring the Premier League trophy back to Manchester City?
|PREMIER LEAGUE 2013-14
OPENING WEEKEND FIXTURES
|Liverpool - Stoke City|
|Arsenal - Aston Villa
|Norwich - Everton
|Sunderland - Fulham
|WBA - Southampton|
|West Ham - Cardiff|
|Swansea - Man Utd|
|C.Palace - Tottenham
|Chelsea - Hull City|
|Man City - Newcastle|
The futures of Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez continue to dominate the headlines and will have a huge bearing on how the season pans out at the top end of the table as teams fight for the title and Champions League places.
While the new TV deal has increased clubs' spending power, a number of leading European clubs have snubbed moves to the Premier League - Edinson Cavani, Isco and Radamel Falcao to name a few.
But the Premier League, now complete with goal-line technology, never fails to thrill, to entertain and throw up the unpredictable.
For a sense of the new and unexpected, look no further than Old Trafford. For the first time in 27 years, Sir Alex Ferguson will not be sitting in the Manchester United dugout, with Moyes the man hand-picked to take on the almost impossible task of stepping into his countryman’s shoes - and out of his shadow.
United are, though, the reigning champions having cruised to the Premier League title last term. They can never be overlooked, despite their frustrating transfer window to date as Moyes has had to tackle speculation over Rooney’s future - he insists the striker is ‘not for sale’ - while the club have failed to sign a stellar central midfielder.
The Rooney saga, even at this stage, may define how Moyes and United fare in the Scot’s first season in charge.
Across town, new Manchester City boss Pellegrini has experienced no such trouble after replacing Roberto Mancini, who failed to win a trophy last term and was dumped out of the Champions League at the first hurdle.
City have gone about their business efficiently this summer and Pellegrini will be expected to challenge for the title having brought in a raft of new talent in the form of Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and Fernandinho. Their squad now looks fearsome, rather complete and ready again to challenge for honours.
The cross-Manchester rivalry at the Premier League summit is likely to be threatened this summer from west London, where Chelsea start the season with a new manager but not a new face.
Mourinho has returned to Stamford Bridge as ‘the happy one’ and with a young, hungry squad with the potential to reclaim the title this season. He will sure up the defence and build an attacking unit around the young triumvirate of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar.
After Rafa Benitez was hounded and jeered by the Blues fans last season, Mourinho returns to London as the Messiah, and the feel-good factor surrounding the Portuguese's return has made Chelsea the bookmakers’ favourite to win the title.
| PREMIER LEAGUE LATEST
|11/1||BetVictor is offering 11/1 on both teams scoring in eight games or more on the opening weekend of the 2013/14 Premier League
Spurs have spent heavily having finished just one point behind Arsenal last term, with Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue and Paulinho all arriving at White Hart Lane. Their season is still likely to hinge, however, on Bale’s future and how they reinvest the funds if the Welshman is sold to Real Madrid.
In any case, Spurs fans are far more optimistic heading into the new season than their north London neighbours. Arsenal supporters have, not for the first time, been hugely frustrated by their lack of transfer business with Yaya Sanogo the only arrival so far on a free transfer.
The likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Luiz Gustavo have been high profile summer targets but moved elsewhere, while the Gunners appear to have been wasting their time with their protracted pursuit of Suarez.
Suarez has publicly declared his desire to leave Liverpool for a club featuring in the Champions League, but the Merseyside club are adamant the Uruguayan will not be sold to Arsenal having rejected two bids from the Gunners. A bad start in north London and Arsene Wenger may find himself under real pressure from the supporters.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will consider this to be the campaign when he makes his mark as the club's manager, with the side now built around technically gifted players like Phillipe Coutinho. How, though, will the loss of senior dressing room figures like Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina affect the squad's mentality?
Elsewhere, Everton have a new manager for the first time in 10 years in Roberto Martinez while Mark Hughes has replaced Tony Pulis at Stoke as the Potters look to play a more expansive style of football.
Swansea have invested wisely as they attempt to cope with the challenge of playing in the Europa League, with a mouthwatering Wales derby in store when they face newly-promoted Cardiff. Malky Mackay's side have broken their transfer record three times this summer to build a squad capable of Premier League survival, a spending philosophy matched by Steve Bruce at Hull, who has brought in several proven top-flight players.
It has been all change for Sunderland as Paolo Di Canio makes his mark at the Stadium of Light - but who can predict how that will end?
Down the road at Newcastle, Loic Remy is the only significant arrival at Newcastle as Alan Pardew looks to improve on last season’s disappointment under the new leadership of bumbling, fumbling director of football Joe Kinnear.
Norwich have invested significantly in their attack this summer while Aston Villa start the campaign with Christian Benteke leading the line and ready to improve on his 19 league goals last season.
Benteke’s form last term has led to Darren Bent’s departure to Fulham, who have had a quietly efficient summer as they start a new era under the ownership of Shahid Khan.
Everywhere you look there are stories to be played out over the next nine months before some of the very best players in the division head off to Brazil for the World Cup.
We start the campaign with six teams who can win the title and no idea which clubs will find themselves in a relegation scrap. It promises to be one of the most compelling seasons in Premier League history.
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