'We expect a big challenge from Chelsea, Man City'
Manchester City stand ready to emerge from the long shadow cast by their illustrious neighbours when the new Premier League season begins next weekend.
City last won the English title in 1968, the year Manchester United first became European champions, and United have since secured 12 Premier League crowns, all under manager Alex Ferguson.
Once dismissed by Ferguson as noisy neighbours, Roberto Mancini's City team and last season's runners-up Chelsea are the biggest threats to United's hopes of retaining the title.
"We expect a big challenge from those two," Ferguson told Inside United.
Image: Alex Ferguson
Aguero lastest A-lister to join City
City showed improvement by finishing third last season. It ensured Champions League football and provided a valid reason -- other than eye-bulging salaries -- for the world's best players to flock to Eastlands.
Argentina striker Sergio Aguero is the latest A-lister to join the City revolution. His move from Atletico Madrid is the stand-out signing of a transfer window that has been relatively short of spectacular deals.
Image: Sergio Aguero
Villas-Boas must get maximum out of ageing Chelsea
Chelsea will begin a new era under Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas -- the latest occupant of the hottest seat in English football that normally results in ejection by owner Roman Abramovich if a season ends without silverware.
Villas-Boas, 33, must get the maximum out of an ageing squad that pushed United close last season. Chelsea's pursuit of Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Luka Modric could persist until transfer deadline day.
Villas-Boas will also need to solve the riddle of Spain striker Fernando Torres, who since his record 50 million-pound move from Liverpool in January has managed only one goal.
Image: Andre Villas-Boas
Arsenal trying hard to hold back Fabregas, Nasri
"Andre is a modern manager," Chelsea captain John Terry told reporters. "The thing that impresses me, he understands the players. I've been really impressed and everyone seems to finally understand the way he wants us to play."
Arsenal, fourth last season and facing a potentially tricky Champions League playoff tie, have spent the summer trying to hold on to skipper Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri after left-back Gael Clichy joined Manchester City.
Image: Samir Nasri (left)
Charlie Adam brought in to boost Liverpool midfield
Of the other teams expected to threaten, Liverpool have been the most progressive as they try to restore their faded glamour and challenge for their first title since 1990.
The optimism of Kenny Dalglish's return to Anfield midway through last season has been fuelled by the signings of England winger Stewart Downing from Aston Villa, playmaker Charlie Adam from Blackpool and Jordan Henderson from Sunderland.
"It has given the supporters a bit of hope and put a smile back on their faces," Dalglish said. "In and around the city, you can see the feel-good factor is there for us. Now we have got to go on the pitch and win games."
Image: Charlie Adam
'I expected more buying from Arsenal'
Tottenham Hotspur, fifth last season after cracking the top-four the season before, will expect to be in the mix, although manager Harry Redknapp has warned that the Europa League's demands could be an unwanted distraction.
Ferguson believes United's main rivals could be stronger by the time the transfer window closes at the end of August.
"I expected more buying," Ferguson said. "Especially the likes of Arsenal. I thought they'd have bought a few players. But it's early days -- 31 August is a long way off and a lot can happen.
"Liverpool have bought a few players, but the important thing is to look at ourselves. We're experienced and have the players to go the distance in all the competitions."
Image: Alex Ferguson
Norwich City, Queen's Park Rangers back in the Premier League
Staying in the money-spinning elite will be the raison d'etre for around half the clubs, including Premier League newcomers Swansea City, who provide Welsh interest in the top flight for the first time since they were relegated after a two-year stay in 1983.
They will need to make a quick transition from the Championship if they are to avoid the fate of Burnley and Blackpool, both of whom reached the top division via the playoffs but lasted just one season.
Norwich City and Queen's Park Rangers are also back in the Premier League having sunk to third-tier status since they were last there.
The big question, however, is whether the limitless spending power of Manchester City reaps the ultimate reward in the league.
Image: Manager of Norwich City Paul Lambert, Adam Drury and Elliot Ward celebrate the team's promotion to the EPL
Fergie has added Young, De Gea to his squad
Those looking for clues will turn to Wembley this Sunday, as United and FA Cup winners City meet in the Community Shield, the traditional season curtain-raiser.
Ferguson, who led United to a record 19th league title last season, will not be taking the threat from City lightly.
With his 70th birthday looming he shows no sign of resting on his laurels and has been busy adding strength to his squad, which will be missing some familiar names this season after Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar retired.
Ferguson's love of width and pace prompted the signing of England winger Ashley Young from Aston Villa. Highly-rated defender Phil Jones Was snapped up from Blackburn Rovers and Spaniard David de Gea was bought from Atletico Madrid as Van der Sar's successor.
Image: Ashley Young