Title race could be A dogfight

Updated: 2013-08-16 07:50

By Agence France-Presse (China Daily)

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 Title race could be A dogfight

Manchester United striker Robin van Persie and new manager David Moyes celebrate with the trophy after beating Wigan Athletic to win the FA Community Shield at Wembley Stadium in north London on Sunday. Van Persie scored both goals in the 2-0 victory. Glyn Kirk / Agence France-Presse

EPL contenders spend freely as post-Ferguson era dawns, Agence France-Presse writes.

After a close season of unprecedented upheaval in the English Premier League, the 2013-14 campaign, starting on Saturday, looks set to be the most tightly-contested in recent memory.

For the first time since November 1986, defending champion Manchester United has a new man in the dug-out, with former Everton coach David Moyes stepping in after the retirement of the legendary Alex Ferguson.

Manchester City, champion in 2012, also has a new manager in the form of Manuel Pellegrini, while the most headline-grabbing appointment of the summer saw Jose Mourinho sweep back into Chelsea after six years away.

In total, there have been five managerial changes, and with a new 5.5 billion pound ($8.5 billion) television rights deal kicking in, England's elite clubs have been splashing the cash with rare zeal.

United romped home 11 points clear of City last season, but its aura has faded in the wake of Ferguson's abrupt exit, and Moyes faces a challenge to prove himself a worthy successor.

The champion's preseason has been dogged by speculation about the future of striker Wayne Rooney, the subject of two failed bids from Chelsea, while the pursuit of Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas came to nothing.

Moyes faces a taxing start, with games against Chelsea, Liverpool and City awaiting in the first six weeks of the season, and he is well aware of the threat to United's 20-year dominance amid the current state of flux.

"There are new managers coming into clubs, so things can change," Moyes told journalists on United's tour of Australia.

"I think the Premier League is going to be a little bit more unpredictable than it's been in the past.

"(Arsenal's) Arsene Wenger is now the longest-serving manager in the league and there is the chance that this could be a different kind of year."

United has failed to make inroads in the transfer market, with 20-year-old Uruguayan rightback Guillermo Varela its only signing to date, but City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have all strengthened.

City has spent the most conspicuously, parting with about 90 million pounds in a bid to close the gap on United, but it has recruited intelligently.

Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic will bolster an attack that has lost Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli in the past eight months, while Fernandinho and Jesus Navas bring power and pace to Pellegrini's midfield.

Spurs have also invested heavily, breaking their transfer record twice to sign Paulinho and then Roberto Soldado, but their fortunes may hang on whether or not they can resist Real Madrid's interest in last season's serial award-winner, Gareth Bale.

Arsenal pipped Spurs to a Champions League place last season, but despite Wenger threatening to flex his muscles in the transfer market for once, it missed out on striker Gonzalo Higuain and has been rebuffed by Liverpool in its attempts to sign the unsettled Luis Suarez.

Mourinho's return is likely to have a strongly galvanizing effect at Chelsea, which was briefly transformed into England's leading side during his first stint at Stamford Bridge between 2004 and 2007.

The charismatic Portuguese returns slightly chastened after a difficult experience at Real Madrid, but he has promised to squeeze every ounce of talent out of the Europa League champion's squad.

"I am not the kind of guy who makes life easy for the great players," he told The Guardian newspaper in July.

"Don't get me wrong - I still prefer the top players, the guys who win you matches and make the difference. But if they are 'great', they have to give more than the others."

Further down the table, even the division's more modest clubs have capitalized on the largesse of the new TV package to enhance their squads.

League Cup winner Swansea City broke its transfer record to sign Ivorian striker Wilfried Bony from Vitesse Arnhem for 12 million pounds, while Southampton beat off competition from several leading clubs to make Kenyan midfielder Vincent Wanyama a 12.5 million pound acquisition from Celtic.

Cardiff City's promotion from the Championship means the English top flight will witness a south Wales derby for the first time, but bookmakers are backing Malky Mackay's side to go straight back down along with Hull City and Crystal Palace.

(China Daily 08/16/2013 page22)