Chelsea the team to beat as EPL season gets underway
The 2015-16 EPL season starts with reigning champions Chelsea surrounded by a clutch of strong challengers capable of stealing a march on them.football Updated: Aug 08, 2015 09:49 IST
It is a reflection of Chelsea's dominance last season that although they are yet to strengthen their squad, they remain strong favourites to retain the Premier League title in 2015-16.
Arsenal, third last season, appear better-equipped for a title tilt, while Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool have spent big in the hope of closing the gap on Chelsea, who finished eight points clear of outgoing champions City in May.
But with their title-winning side intact, Jose Mourinho's men are widely perceived as the team to beat. "Throughout the Premier League there is strength now because a lot of clubs are buying big players, not just the top clubs," said Mourinho, who hopes to repeat his feat of leading Chelsea to successive titles in 2005 and 2006.
With Asmir Begovic having replaced Petr Cech as reserve goalkeeper and Radamel Falcao taking the place of Didier Drogba, Chelsea's squad is materially the same as it was last season.
However, Diego Costa's troublesome hamstrings, which caused him to miss Sunday's Community Shield loss to Arsenal, and some leggy pre-season performances have given their rivals reason for optimism.
That 1-0 Community Shield win, coupled with the arrival of Cech, has encouraged belief at Arsenal, back-to-back FA Cup-winners, that their 12-year wait for a league title may be approaching an end.
With a world-class goalkeeper backing up a settled defence and a midfield that bristles with guile and inventiveness, the only weak spot is up front, where Arsene Wenger must choose between the not particularly prolific trio of Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck.
Another team brimming with midfielders and short on strikers is United, with Louis van Gaal having added Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay to a department of his squad that already included Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata, Ashley Young and Adnan Januzaj, not to mention the departing Angel di Maria, whose place in the squad could go to Barcelona's Pedro Rodriguez.
Falcao, Nani and Robin van Persie have also left, but as a Champions League qualifying play-off looms, goalkeeper David de Gea's future remains up in the air.
With a new 5.1 billion-pound domestic television rights deal kicking in next year, Premier League clubs have not been shy in splashing out.
The biggest transfer to date has been Raheem Sterling's 49 million-pound switch from Liverpool to City, after a protracted transfer saga that opposition fans are unlikely to forget in a hurry.
Despite falling short in the defence of their title, City have kept faith with manager Manuel Pellegrini, but with the club hierarchy continuing to flutter their eyelashes at Pep Guardiola and last season's Golden Boot-winner Sergio Aguero short of fitness after the Copa America, doubts remain.
The EPL is undoubtedly one of the most exciting in world football but is it also becoming one of the most predictable?
Last term only Newcastle United and Everton, both of whom dropped down the table, moved more than four places either way, while two of the three promoted clubs went straight back down.
While the usual suspects are expected to contest the title, however, none of them have managed to win it for two years in a row since Manchester United completed a hat-trick in 2009 under Alex Ferguson.