Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Finally, It's Kick-Off Time for the Most Intriguing Premier Season Yet

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Finally, It's Kick-Off Time for the Most Intriguing Premier Season Yet

Article excerpt

Byline: Matthew Norman

PERHAPS it's just the appetite being sharpened by a summer bereft of a major tournament, but the eve-of-firstgame tingle of anticipation feels especially acute this year. Giant question marks hang over each of England's mightiest clubs, and if the most intriguing surrounds Manchester City's bid to become one of those, others seem more relevant to events come May when they're handing out the trophy.

Can Manchester United survive losing Cristiano Ronaldo? Will Carlo Ancelotti adapt to the demands of the English game in time? Are Liverpool capable of shrugging off the financial chaos to claim their first Premier League title? And have Arsene Wenger's precocious toddlers matured sufficiently to neutralise the lack of experience and transfer spending power? With Ronaldo's departure further narrowing the slender gulf between (apologies to Gooners) the Big Three, predicting is more than ever an imbecile's game. So here goes. Chelsea's solidity, resilience and consistency will give them the title by the narrowest of squeaks. They won't please the eye, Ancelotti hardly being one to obsess about aesthetics, but the ability to strangle more creative opponents, as they stifled Barcelona in the Champions League, will make them horrendously difficult to beat.

If United pick up where they left off against Barca, they'll be lucky to finish fourth. Their capitulation was shocking that night in Rome, and you wonder what scarring the surgical slicing delivered by the wondrous Andres Iniesta may have left behind. For all that, and however depleted their attacking potential (Michael Owen equals Ronaldo plus Carlos Tevez? You needn't be Carol Vorderman on triple Omega 3 rations to question that equation), their underrated defensive brilliance gives them every chance.

As for Liverpool, they rely heavily on two of the planet's greats. …

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