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Man United favourites, close fight in prospect
Timothy Collings | August 02, 2007 10:24 IST
Instead, once the action kicks off on August 11, the only secure prospect is that the title will be won by one of the 'big four' - again.
United won their 16th title last season and have spent around $75 million on reinforcements, including England [Images] midfielder Owen Hargreaves.
Liverpool have spent a similar sum to United in a bid to add to their record 18 titles while Chelsea, by their own standards, have laid out only a modest $20 million.
Beaten in the European Cup final by AC Milan last May and without a championship triumph since 1990, Liverpool are expected to mount a more powerful domestic assault than for many seasons.
Manager Rafa Benitez has added competition to his attack with the acquisitions of Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin and Spaniard Fernando Torres.
But many observers feel they will fall short of the ever-rising standards set by United and Chelsea, both of whom have formidable squads packed with quality.
Arsenal, champions in 2004, have endured a period of turmoil following the departures of influential vice-chairman David Dein, captain Thierry Henry [Images] and stalwart forward Freddie Ljungberg.
Manager Arsene Wenger, one of the summer's meanest spenders, believes, however, that his young squad have the ability and spirit to mount a title bid particularly with Dutchman Robin van Persie back from injury.
Arsenal, who often field a team made up entirely of foreigners, remain the only English-owned club among the top four.
However, if a talked-about takeover by American billionaire Stan Kroenke comes off it would enlarge the number of clubs in foreign ownership to 10 - half the league.
Already Aston Villa (American), Birmingham City (Chinese), Chelsea (Russian), Fulham (Egyptian), Liverpool (American), Manchester City (Thai), Manchester United (American), Portsmouth (Russian) and West Ham United (Icelandic) have foreign owners.
This has intensified the cosmopolitan flavour of the league on and off the pitch and helped contribute to the rich tapestry of international gossip, scandal and intrigue each week.
Of these clubs, Villa, Manchester City and West Ham, and their respective managers Martin O'Neill, Sven Goran Eriksson and Alan Curbishley, will be under close scrutiny this season as they attempt to end periods of under-achievement.
O'Neill has had a year already to take stock of Villa, who should be in the top 10, former England manager Eriksson has been given a big transfer budget in his first job as a Premier League manager and Curbishley has to steer big-spending West Ham away from trouble.
Tottenham Hotspur, who have spent around $45 million to strengthen their inconsistent squad, will seek to make the step up from two successive fifth-placed finishes.
Newcastle United, Everton, Portsmouth and Blackburn Rovers are likely to fall into the category of also-rans while the sole target of promoted trio Sunderland, Birmingham City and Derby County is survival.