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Big four clubs set to dominate again

Mike Collett | August 15, 2008 13:04 IST

New players and coaches have arrived, familiar faces have left but the English Premier League title race again looks set to be between Manchester United [Images], Chelsea, Arsenal [Images] and Liverpool this season.

No other team has finished in the top four for the last three seasons and despite the millions of pounds spent by clubs aspiring to break into the Champions League places, it will be a major surprise if any of them do.

United, who won the Premier League and Champions League last season and beat Portsmouth in a penalty shootout in Sunday's Community Shield, are favourites to land the crown for the third successive season and equal Liverpool's record of 18 championships.

Although they have dominated the close-season headlines because of the on-off transfer saga involving winger Cristiano Ronaldo [Images] and Real Madrid [Images], manager Alex Ferguson has not yet made a major signing.

Ronaldo finally committed himself to United last week and even though he will miss the start of the season with an ankle injury, he again looks sure to play a significant role.

Ferguson appears confident United have the squad to retain the title, even though last season's runners-up Chelsea now have former Brazil [Images] World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari [Images] in charge.

Scolari, who replaced Avram Grant in the close-season, has brought in Portuguese internationals Deco and Jose Bosingwa and held on to Frank Lampard [Images] and Didier Drogba [Images] who were the subject of transfer speculation.

Arsenal, who stumbled in the closing stages last season, have seen goalkeeper Jens Lehmann and midfielders Mathieu Flamini, Aleksandr Hleb and Gilberto Silva quit the club.

Manager Arsene Wenger, though, was delighted Emmanuel Adebayor signed a new contract and will also be looking for progress from his young winger Theo Walcott.

Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez is enthusiastic ahead of the new season, saying he has the strongest squad since he joined the club in 2004.

KEANE ARRIVAL

The arrival of Robbie Keane from Tottenham Hotspur for 20 million pounds was a major coup for the team the Ireland striker supported as a boy, and his partnership with Fernando Torres in attack looks exciting.

Everton finished fifth last season, a distant 11 points behind Liverpool, but have had a quiet close-season.

With three weeks to go before the end of the transfer window, there have been no significant arrivals at Goodison Park but Andy Johnson and Lee Carsley are among the departures.

While Everton have been quiet others have been highly active including Aston Villa, FA Cup winners Portsmouth and League Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur who, along with Everton, are in the UEFA [Images] Cup this season.

All of those clubs plus Blackburn Rovers, under new boss Paul Ince, and Manchester City, under the stewardship of Mark Hughes, will again target places in Europe.

Fulham, who avoided relegation on goal difference, have brought in almost an entire new team and could also be among the clubs jostling for a European spot.

West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City and Hull City have replaced relegated Reading, Birmingham City and Derby County.

The pressure will be firmly on Stoke, back in the top division for the first time since 1985, and Hull, playing in the top flight for the first time in their 104-year existence.

West Brom, returning after two seasons in the Championship (second division), have an experienced squad and will hope to avoid an immediate return.


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