Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Knotty title race begins tomorrow

Published:Friday | August 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Manchester United's new manager, Louis van Gaal (right), signs autographs as he takes to the touchline before his team's pre-season friendly match against Valencia at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester on Tuesday, August 12. - AP

MANCHESTER, England (AP):

The English Premier League is back - and it looks more competitive than ever this season.

Manchester City head into the first match of their title defence, against Newcastle on Sunday, knowing there are four genuine pretenders to the trophy after a typically frenetic summer of transfers and coaching changes in English football.

After slumping to a seventh-place finish last season, Manchester United looks sure to be a factor again following the hiring of Louis van Gaal as coach. And both Chelsea and Arsenal should have the potency to last the course in the championship after signing top-class attackers.

Liverpool, the runners-up to City in a thrilling title race that went to the final weekend, should also be challenging again after reacting to the sale of star striker Luis Suarez with a spending spree of about £100 million.

With Tottenham and Everton having the potential to threaten the top-four favourites, anticipation is high in Europe's most lucrative and watched league.

HAS CITY REPEATED 2012 MISTAKES?

The debate is on as to whether Man City have sprinkled their squad with enough star quality in the off season to hold off the charge of their rivals.

Bolstering their defence with Eliaquim Mangala and Bacary Sagna, and bulking up the midfield with Fernando and the ageing Frank Lampard looks sensible, but hasn't set the pulses racing.

To some, there are shades of the summer of 2012 when City manager Roberto Mancini failed to make any jaw-dropping signings after a title success, allowing Man United to seize back the initiative and eventually oust City as champions. Mancini was fired as a result.

There is the argument, however, that City's squad - especially in attack - was strong enough as it is and simply needed fine-tuning, as Manuel Pellegrini has done.

Playing away first up against Newcastle, whose off season signings have been shrewd, will be a good test of City's credentials.

ANOTHER NEW ERA AT UNITED

For the second straight season, a new era at Man United begins with a Premier League opener against Swansea.

Twelve months ago, a 4-1 win over the Welsh club proved to be a false barometer for United and its then new coach, David Moyes, whose tenure went downhill from there and he was sacked before the season was out.

Expect things to be different under the more experienced Van Gaal. For starters, Wayne Rooney has been appointed captain and will be part of a new 3-5-2 formation that Van Gaal favours and has worked well in pre-season for United, which has won all of their six friendlies.

The defence is a worry ahead of this weekend, though, with the new signing at left back, Luke Shaw, ruled out for a month, centre back Jonny Evans also set to miss out and Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra all departed.

COMPLETE CHELSEA

With Diego Costa signed up, it's difficult to find a weakness in Chelsea's title challenge.

Jose Mourinho craved a lethal striker last season, one which Chelsea finished without a trophy mainly because of the lack of goals from Samuel Eto'o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba up front.