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English August: The big bang

Chelsea faces what could be the most open Premier League for years when they try to hold on to the title it won by just a single point last season.

sports Updated: Aug 13, 2010 01:32 IST

Chelsea faces what could be the most open Premier League for years when they try to hold on to the title it won by just a single point last season.

The Blues are favorites but their near decade-long status as the biggest spender in football's richest league has been surpassed by Manchester City's reaction to last season's failure to reach the Champions League.

City look set to be a contender after spending about 80 million pounds ($127 million) to bolster their squad and take their spending in two years past 300 million pounds ($477 million). Manchester United have signed Mexico striker Javier Hernandez after finishing second last season and Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger says his young side is finally ready to challenge for the title. "The Premier League has got progressively harder to win," United striker Wayne Rooney said. "In previous seasons, you might have had straightforward games where the top clubs could afford to rest players, but that's not the case anymore.

"Nowadays it's hard to leave players out because every game is competitive and difficult."

Predictions are even harder than usual because of new Premier League rules limiting squad sizes in an effort to wean clubs off big money transfers.

The ruling that teams must now draw from a pool of 25 players instead of a limitless supply could hit City especially hard since they list 38 first-team squad players on its website. Since finishing fifth last season, City has bought Spain midfielder David Silva, Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure, Serbia defender Alesksandar Kolarov and Germany defender Jerome Boateng. It has also tried to sign Inter Milan's Mario Balotelli and Aston Villa's James Milner.

"Yaya is one of the best midfielders in the world and for him to come to City shows the kind of ambition this club has," City midfielder Patrick Vieira said. "We want to win trophies and I think we'll do it."

That ambition was clear last season, when City fired Mark Hughes to hire former Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini when it had lost just two of 17 Premier League matches.

Hughes will be at Fulham this season, replacing Roy Hodgson following his move to Liverpool, which was replaced in the top four by Tottenham.

Fulham could finish in the top 10 without the distraction of the Europa League, which last season provided the unfashionable west London club with only the second final of its 131-year history. Hodgson is already popular with Liverpool fans after persuading Spain striker Fernando Torres and club captain Steven Gerrard to spurn transfers and stick with a team that slumped to seventh last season.

He has also signed England midfielder Joe Cole on a free transfer following the expiry of his Chelsea contract. "Last season was a very disappointing season for the club in every respect, culminating in a popular manager leaving," Hodgson said. "You don't dispel that with a couple of signings and I would never want to dupe the Liverpool public by telling them all is rosy now because Joe Cole has signed."

But Liverpool should improve, with Cole, Gerrard, Torres and goalkeeper Jose Reina providing a strong spine to the team. And with City also stronger, Tottenham will struggle to match last season's fourth place, its highest finish since 1990. The north London club will also have the extra demands of a debut Champions League appearance should it advance to the group stage.

But Chelsea looks to be the team City and the others will have to beat.

First Published: Aug 13, 2010 01:30 IST