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Contenders ready for toughest title fight
Published : 24 Jun 2011 12:36:00Rss feed
Mark Holmes is already relishing the Premier League season - and is especially excited to see the Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool sides. I may be in a minority, but I found the most recent Premier League campaign to be something of a damb squib. Manchester United won the title without any real trouble, Blackpool's dream ended in rather inevitable fashion and even Liverpool, for all their troubles, finished in an about-par sixth. As for the games themselves, there were some memorable ones, but 2010/11 certainly won't be remembered as a vintage season - and United have to go down as the least outstanding winners in a good number of years. The forthcoming campaign on the other hand is already shaping up to be a cracker. United, seeking to defend their title, have already spent over £30million on Phil Jones and Ashley Young, and Sir Alex Ferguson will strengthen again before August 31. David De Gea is certain to become their third big-money transfer of the summer and it appears likely the Glazers will sanction a fourth, with the Red Devils' midfield still looking on the weak side. I'm actually slightly underwhelmed by United's business so far - Jones is promising but needs polishing and Young, for me, needs to seriously improve his consistency to justify his price tag. Still, United will certainly start the new season stronger than they finished the last - and boy do they need to be because they're going to face some real competition for their crown this season. Manchester City, once no more than United's irritating 'noisy neighbours', have the rigours of the Champions League to contend with for the first time, but their elevation to Europe's top table has removed the one remaining obstacle preventing them from attracting the world's very best players. The Blues are yet to show their hand in the transfer market but they are certain to add at least one world-class star, and I see no reason why an already-strong squad cannot challenge on all fronts. Not everyone wishes Manchester's nouveau riche well but I can't wait to see a new team battling for major honours. United and Chelsea have won the last seven titles between them but City could really shake things up this season - and that is something to look forward to for us neutrals. I'm similarly excited by the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas at Stamford Bridge. The Blues have got an incredible knack of appointing affable, likeable managers - from Gullit and Vialli to Ranieri, Mourinho, Scolari and Ancelotti - and Villas-Boas is cut from the same cloth. I don't buy into the argument that he's too young for the job either; he's a born winner that will not be overawed by the task ahead of him. He is a confident, hugely impressive young coach and he will quickly win the players' respect. His achievements at Porto last season were incredible but it will not have come as a surprise to Villas-Boas himself. The 33-year-old, like Mourinho, leaves nothing to chance in his preparation. In fact he is said to be even more thorough. Some of you may have read Simon Kuper's superb recent article on the use of statistics in football management today, and Villas-Boas is at the forefront of that revolution. The Chelsea players will be fitter, cleverer and better drilled than ever before and I have absolutely no doubt that we'll soon be calling Villas-Boas the new special one. He'll also have no problem appeasing Abramovich's desire to see exciting football as both Porto and Académica played an attractive, attacking brand of football under Villas-Boas' stewardship. His teams win in style, and he is a welcome addition to the Premier League. Kenny Dalglish on the other hand is already part of the furniture but the revolution he is overseeing at Liverpool is still in its early stages and I cannot wait to see the continuation of it this season. I was hugely impressed by the Reds' improvement in style following his appointment in January and I truly believe the club is on the verge of greatness again. Their capture of Jordan Henderson has raised some eyebrows, not least because of his transfer fee, but Dalglish is clearly building for the future and I applaud him for that. Henderson, like Luiz Suarez and Andy Carroll, is a good age and an athlete, comfortable with the ball at his feet. In a world in which Barcelona are starting to dominate, Dalglish understands the importance of posssession and it is clear his ideas are more modern than any of us expected. Liverpool fans shouldn't worry too much about their spending either as Fenway Sports Group know what they are doing and will not spend money they have not got. "We've always spent money we've generated rather than deficit-spending and that will be the case in Liverpool," John Henry said in January. Make no mistake about it, Liverpool are in good hands and are on the way up. While the title may be beyond them this season, I believe they will be a significant threat to the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea. Arsenal, meanwhile, wary of the Reds' revival, have indicated they too will spend this summer. It is well documented how close they are to having a title-winning side and should Arsene Wenger keep hold of Cesc Fabregas and fill the gaps in his squad, the Gunners would finally stand a chance of getting over the line. However, lose Fabregas and fail to make the necessary reinforcements and they could just as easily find themselves outside of the top four come the end of the season, with their north London rivals Tottenham also set to strengthen again. Harry Redknapp's men dropped a place to fifth last season but their improvement should not be under-estimated and, with Redknapp unlikely to take the Europa League too seriously, Spurs can put all their energy into another crack at the top four and, if they spend wisely, possibly even the title. That's a long shot, but Redknapp certainly believes they can do it and a couple more players of the quality of Bale, Van der Vaart and Modric could give them half a chance. Now things could change vastly between now and the big kick-off, but how fantastic is it to have six sides that could potentially challenge for the title? And it is not just the top six that will excite us this season - the three promoted clubs, QPR, Norwich and Swansea, play open, exciting brands of football and will make for fantastic entertainment, while clubs such as Newcastle are committed to big summer spends. Throw in a new manager at Aston Villa and all the drama yet to come, and we could be in for one of the greatest seasons of all time.