CORRESPONDENT COLUMN: The Premier League returns this weekend and it promises to be another thrilling campaign as five clubs plot title challengesBy Greg Stobart
Jose Mourinho claimed last season that Chelsea had the role of the 'little horse' in the title race, but on the eve of the new campaign he has a squad that can blow away their competition for the Premier League trophy.
After the drama of last season, this is shaping up to be another thrilling campaign and five teams will kick-off this weekend all with the target of lifting the trophy next May.
Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United are all capable of winning the title but it is the west London club who have left their rivals behind with their summer transfer business.
Mourinho has built a squad that looks formidable. Chelsea can now boast the best starting XI and the strongest group of players in the country following a superb summer of transfer business.
The departures of Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and David Luiz have already been forgotten thanks to the €94 million outlay on Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois also returning to Stamford Bridge to play as their No. 1.
Mourinho spent most of last season playing down the Blues' title prospects and complaining about his strikers. Now he has a squad that could dominate English football and compete for the Champions League crown, too.
It is a better group of players than the Chelsea side that won the title twice under Mourinho in his first spell in charge. It is a more exciting team than Inter's treble winners of 2010 and more complete than the Real Madrid side that won the title in 2012.
This is the best team Mourinho has ever had at his disposal, with world class options in every position.
Even in pre-season, it looks like Costa and Fabregas have added the X-Factor, with the former scoring four goals in the warm-up games and his Spain team-mate ready to pull the strings from an advanced midfield role.
Mourinho is certainly ready for the challenge ahead of Monday night's opener away at newly-promoted Burnley.
"We have the squad that we want to have," Mourinho said this week. "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."
I like it too and I make Chelsea overwhelming favourites to win a fifth top-flight title in the club's history.
They will face stern competition, of course.
Holders Manchester City have also improved over the close season but their preparations have been particularly disrupted by the World Cup, while there is a sense that the Champions League will be the primary focus for Manuel Pellegrini this term.
The arrival of Alexis Sanchez has made Arsenal genuine contenders for the first time since the famous Invincibles team of 2004. Arsene Wenger now has an embarrassment of riches in attack and supporters are in optimistic mood following their FA Cup win in May.
The Gunners will need, however, to sign two players - a centre-back and more importantly a defensive midfielder - to sustain a title charge over the course of the season and to take points off their rivals who beat them far too easily last season.
Louis van Gaal has excited Manchester United supporters this summer by guiding the Netherlands to third at the World Cup before overseeing an unbeaten pre-season campaign in his new job.
After the disastrous reign of David Moyes, United have their fear factor back and an ambitious, tactically astute manager with no distraction of European football.
At the moment, though, a top-four finish is the most realistic target as United finally look to prove that there is life after Sir Alex Ferguson. The squad about which Moyes constantly complained remains unbalanced and incomplete.
United have signed Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw for around €75m but executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward must spend the remaining €112m in the club's transfer budget to recruit central defenders and a top class midfielder.
It is ridiculous that, after allowing Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand to leave, United have not strengthened at centre-back and are set to start the campaign with a back three of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
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But the £87m sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona and the added complication of Champions League football is likely to take its toll.
The Reds can still boast awesome attacking talent in the likes of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, but they could struggle to secure a Champions League place if they don't hit the ground running.
Elsewhere, Everton and Tottenham will again nestle in behind the leading pack, eyeing a Europa League place and possibly a domestic cup triumph.
For all the strength at the top of the tree, the main priority for every team outside last season's top seven will be to avoid relegation.
I expect Burnley and Leicester to struggle on their return to the Premier League and they will be joined in a relegation battle by the likes of West Brom, Crystal Palace and Southampton.
It will be the usual story as managers lose their jobs throughout the campaign as clubs desperately looking to preserve their Premier League status. The short-termism can be disappointing, but it adds to the drama of the season.
After the World Cup, it barely feels that there has been a break from football this summer.
But we still miss it, and there is an awful lot to look forward to in English football this season. It is going to be a cracker.