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12:45 UK time, Stamford Bridge. Chelsea host Hull City and the Premiership kicks off it’s 2009-2010. The most popular soccer league, maybe the most popular sports league in the world kicks off, and here’s our thoughts on how the season will go –

Alex FergusonImage: Source

Can Manchester United become the first team in English soccer to win four consecutive league titles? Alex Ferguson, as weird as it sounds, again it seems, has something to prove. The latest challenge? Show that his team’s success of the last three seasons – three league titles and one Champions League trophy wasn’t all about Cristiano Ronaldo, that he was just part of the big red machine. So Ferguson bolstered his squad with Michael Owen, who will try and regain his scoring touch and stay healthy at the same time, Antonio Valencia who’s impressed many at Wigan but will have to prove he deserves a place on the biggest stage and Gabriel Obertan from Bordeaux, who will try to prove he isn’t just potential. Even without Ronaldo, United are still the favorites to win the title again. With a deep squad, with at least two players for each position, the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez could be soon forgotten if everything clicks at Old Trafford this season. But what if it won’t?

Careful Liverpool Fans, Painful Picture

Careful Liverpool Fans, Painful Picture

Image: Source

Ferguson can usually sniff up and coming competition for the title – It was like that with Wenger, it was like that with the special one at Chelsea, it’s been like that with Benitez (although Rafa hasn’t gotten closer than four points from first) and it seems that after Manchester City’s shopping spree this summer, Mark Hughes is next. Ferguson didn’t attack Hughes personally like he has with Benitez for the past year, but has targeted City as a club and it’s transfer market and club running policies as his focus for verbal assault, in his usual sir Alex psychological warfare. Is he right to be worried?

Mark HughesImage: Source

After a very disappointing 2008-2009 campaign, which saw City finish 10th, Mark Hughes wasn’t fired, but given tons of cash to bring anyone possible to the club. They didn’t get Kaka (January 2009) or John Terry, or Buffon or Villa, but they’ve been busy, don’t you worry. Adebayor and Kolo Toure from Arsenal, Carlos Tevez from Manchester United, Roque Santa Cruz from Blackburn and Gareth Barry from Aston Villa. Along with Shay Given purchased last season, they’ve attended to every area on the pitch.

Emmanuel AdebayorImage: Source

Will these players, along with Robinho and Stephen Ireland who really upgraded himself last season, be enough for a title challenge? Probably not, even Chelsea needed an upgrade after the first Abramovich season – and my guess, that if City don’t finish in the top four, the manager position will be upgraded for 2010-2011.

Rafa BenitezImage: Source

Our next stop is not too far from Manchester – Anfield. Liverpool had a great league season in 2008-2009, actually the club’s best since the English Football League became the Premiership. Like Alex Ferguson said a couple of weeks ago, regarding Liverpool’s chances of threatening the top spot this season – They had their best season in almost 20 years and they still finished four points behind us. Maybe he has a point. The optimists would say Liverpool will build on their success last season to win the title for the first time since 1990 this season – They beat Manchester United twice, including the incredible 4-1 win in Old Trafford, they beat Chelsea twice in the league and didn’t lose to Arsenal (two draws, including the classic 4-4 at Anfield). They lost only twice in the whole season (Tottenham and Middlesbrough) but were held to too many draws, especially 0-0, at home, against the likes of Fulham, West Ham, Stoke City, Manchester City and Hull. If Torres and Steven Gerrard are healthy for the entire season, Liverpool are equal contenders for the title to Chelsea and United.

Steven Gerrard and Fernando TorresImage: Source

Pessimistic view? Xabi Alonso who was very important to Benitez’ system is gone to Real Madrid and his replacement, Alberto Aquilani, is out for a couple of months. The pre season matches have been pretty horrible (3-0 defeat against Espanyol, 2-1 home loss to Atletico Madrid) and Steven Gerrard missed the Asian tour because of his trial. Plus, although he looks Ok, Fernando Torres hasn’t really had a good rest this summer, with the Confederation Cup and all. But Still, if Liverpool can keep out of injury trouble to Gerrard and Torres, and actually anyone in the first team, they have shot.

Carlo AncelottiImage: Source

And London? What’s going on there? The best team in London right now, and actually has been since 2005, is Chelsea. Looking at the pre season and their squad in general, Chelsea are right up there with United as the biggest favorite to win the league this season. They haven’t lost anyone, have a seasoned and battle tested group who had a great finish in the league last season under Guus Hiddink and have Michael Essien and Joe Cole healthy to begin this season. Drogba stayed, seemingly pleased with Ancelotti as his manager. Frank Lampard and John Terry stayed, and seem eager to win the league title after three years missing out, and the team generally looks very strong at every position.

John Terry and Frank LampardImage: Source

Yuri Zhirkov came from Russia and he’ll be another winger who can do a lot of damage along with Kalou and Malouda, and with Michael Ballack in there, this looks like a very strong team. The only question mark? Will Carlo Ancelotti he’s the manager Berlusconi thought he was, or is he the main reason Milan only won one league title in the last decade?

Arsene WengerImage: Source

And speaking of just one title in a certain while, we head over to London’s second team these days, Arsenal. Is this the year Arsenal fall out of the big four and let Manchester City or maybe even Tottenham, Aston Villa or Everton take it’s place? I’m not sure it is. Arsenal had a very disappointing 2008-2009 season, but were still able to bounce back from a rough period and re capture the 4th place, leaving Aston Villa and Everton out of the Champions League. They’ve lost Adebayor and Toure, but they’ll do fine. Cesc Fabregas was well rested this summer and will begin the season healthy, and if he’s healthy, Arsenal are a dangerous team. Arshavin will show what he can produce through a full season, Van Persie will be great. Now comes the question – will Wenger’s belief in his hatch-lings pay off? Will Walcott finally become a consistent player? Will Carlos Vela become the player he is in the Football Manager computer game? And Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Merida? Arsenal are loaded with raw talent – if Wenger still has the passion and drive, which he seemed to lack at times last season, it’ll be a good season at the Emirates.

Cesc FabregasImage: Source

And the rest of the league? I’ll be very surprised to see a change in the big four. Despite Manchester City’s upgrade this summer, it’s hard for me to believe Mark Hughes will make them into a great team. Maybe at home, but there’s a good chance their horrible away form will continue this season. Tottenham and Harry Redknapp will try and break the tradition of a terrible start and a manager getting fired, Everton will pretty much stay the same while Aston Villa’s big purchase this summer, Stewart Downing, will be sidelined till November. If they’ll finish fifth again, Martin O’Neill should be happy.

Relegation? The three new/old comers are fine candidates – out of all the three I’m really looking forward to seeing Michael Kightly do well for Wolves. Can he be as productive as he was in the Championship last season? Like last season, nearly half the league will be involved in the relegation battle – Hull, Wigan, Sunderland, Blackburn will join Birmingham, Barnsley and Wolves in the Premiership survival battle. Hull & Wigan look most vulnerable to me out of the bunch.

Title winner guess? I think Manchester United won’t win it this year. They were a Ronaldo team, despite having a great squad, it’ll take time for them to be a consistent offensive force without him. When he didn’t play well last season, the team struggled. Owen will have a good season, at least 12 league goals, but it won’t be enough. The champions will be either Chelsea (if you’re using the rational/logical pick) or Liverpool (going with the gut feeling and romantic soccer fan side). The problem with picking Liverpool, is you need a few things to happen during the season, especially keeping Torres & Gerrard healthy, in order for the title to come. Fourth? Arsenal, and they’ll be closer to the top spot then people might think. Set your watches everyone, 12:45 UK time, Chelsea vs Hull, the English Premiership begins it’s 2009-2010 season.