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Owen goals could outweigh Man City's buying power

If buying power is a measure of a football club's greatness, Manchester United's bid to become the first team to win the English league title four years in a row could be thwarted by a club just across the city.

sports Updated: Aug 06, 2009 18:24 IST

If buying power is a measure of a football club's greatness, Manchester United's bid to become the first team to win the English league title four years in a row could be thwarted by a club just across the city.

Bought by a wealthy member of Abu Dhabi's royal family last September, Manchester City is now seen as the world's richest club and is using that advantage to try and buy its way into the Premier League's top four _ and maybe even win the title for the first time since 1968.

Spending 94 million pounds ($159 million) on five players with maybe more big names to come before the transfer window closes on Aug 31, Man City bought more than rest of its four big rivals altogether with United using little of the 80 million it received from Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo and unable to persuade Carlos Tevez to stay.

Tevez crossed the city to move to its neighbor and join up with other new signings Roque Santa Cruz and Arsenal stars Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure which means that City manager Mark Hughes, already with Brazil star Robinho, has a wealth of talent in attack and a solid-looking defense.

"We're progressing nicely. The business that we've already done is exceptional. We're really pleased with the quality that we've been able to bring up to this point," said Hughes, who has to live with the pressure of achieving something spectacular and quickly. "Obviously, there's still quite a way to go until the window actually closes and we will get opportunities and see what we can bring. They will have to be top-quality players to improve us." With the start of the new season looming on Aug 15, United manager Alex Ferguson has made what could be the surprise capture of the summer, however, ending Michael Owen's unhappy stay at relegated Newcastle and signing the injury-plagued striker without having to pay a fee.

"He is a natural goalscorer and his record is fantastic," Ferguson said of the former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker. "He is 29 now and has just got to stay the way he has been for 10 years."

If Owen stays fit, he could turn out to be the buy of the season. It could also bring him the title triumph he never achieved in eight years at Anfield, while his former club will rely heavily on the form and fitness of captain Steven Gerrard and striker Fernando Torres.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has been unusually quiet in the transfer market compared with past seasons and has lost his fight to keep midfielder Xabi Alonso, who has become another part of the Real Madrid spending spree. AS Roma's Alberto Aquilani has been lined up as the replacement.

Chelsea has yet another new manager _ the fifth in two years _ with former AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti tasting English football for the first time. Despite the massive wealth of owner Roman Abramovich, the Blues have been low-key in the transfer market with its main signing being Yuri Zhirkov's move from CSKA Moscow. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will again rely on his youngsters with Ajax defender Thomas Vermaelen being his only significant acquisition so far.

With Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky at last over his longterm injury problems and Russian playmaker Andriy Arshavin already on form, Wenger believes he has the talent to recapture the title, although a fifth season in a row without a trophy and maybe a slide out of the top four will make the Gunners fans even more restless. City's spending not only suggests that the traditional top four, who have captured those positions in the past four seasons, will become the big five but that the other clubs are catching up. The last time United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool were split was in 2005 when Everton finished fourth. Although Everton, Tottenham and Aston Villa will again be striving to break into the top four and capture a Champions League spot, they now risk being overtaken by City.

"City might not be favorites to win the league but they should be," said Villa manager Martin O'Neill, anxious to improve on last season's sixth place finish.

"You think you got quite close last year and suddenly another club has just stepped over you immediately before you can go on. It kind of punctures you. I am sure that if you asked David Moyes he would think the same thing.

O'Neill is wary that City won't have the distraction of playing in European competitions.

"All they have got is 38 games and the League Cup and FA Cup which does not start until January," the Villa manager said. "I would say now that the top four has become a geniune top five. It has surprised me. Manchester City have gone and got some players that three months ago I didn't think was possible. "The City side is going to be so, so strong that they can withstand anything during the course of the year and they're not even playing European football. This situation reminds me of Chelsea about five years ago. There's part of me that's actually quite excited to see how they will do. It's as if the Premiership has been reinvented five years on."

Tottenham's hopes of closing the gap on the top four will be lifted by striker Peter Crouch being reunited with his former coach Harry Redknapp and former teammate Jermaine Defoe while Everton, which reached fifth and last season's FA Cup final despite major injury problems, should be good enough to again finish in the top six.

Fulham is unlikely to repeat last season's seventh place finish under Roy Hodgson while Gianfranco Zola hopes that West Ham might improve on ninth.

While Wolves and Birmingham are back, promotion playoff winner Burnley returns to the top flight for the first time since 1976 and it's 49 years since the Clarets won the league title. All three are likely to be among a large number of clubs striving to avoid relegation, joined notably by the likes of Wigan, Bolton, Sunderland, Blackburn, Portsmouth and Stoke.