The countdown begins

FOOTBALL With just over a few days to go for the Premier league to start, here are a few things you should know. Swaroop Swaminathan

The World Cup may be over but football is back. The Barclays Premier League (BPL), England's top-flight football league, enters another edition this weekend. In just 19 years, the BPL has gone from being a poor cousin of its then-more-illustrious Spanish La Liga and the Italian Serie A to being the most watched league in the world.

Last year, the competition was tight as eventual champion Chelsea beat Manchester United by a solitary point. If that evidence is anything to go by, expect an even closer fight to the finish this time.

Will the big four deliver?

While the “traditional big four” have been unspectacular, if not static, in the transfer market thus far, moneybag Manchester City, last year's fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur and the club immediately below — Everton and Aston Villa — have either maintained their position or has improved their team on paper rather significantly.

Nice ensemble

Manchester City has built an ensemble ; Spurs has retained its core group of players; Aston Villa, with James Milner still on its books, could make some telling signings if it sells him to Manchester City.

And Everton, who had to contend with the shenanigans of Joleon Lescott last season, has been largely stress-free. It's champion player Mikel Arteta also committed to the club with a new five-year deal.

But for the top four, things have not been going well. Arsenal has just three centre-backs at the time of writing. While it has managed to retain Cesc Fabregas, it surely can't afford to expect him to win the title on his own.

Liverpool has replaced the abrasive Rafael Benitez but the atmosphere around the Anfield club continues to trouble the new manager, Roy Hogdson.

The protracted takeover by a Chinese billionaire and wantaway midfielder Javier Mascherano will have to be sorted out before September. Manchester United has a solid first-team but surely can't keep relying on veterans Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes day in day out. It's only significant signings — Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling — will at best be bit part players until they settle into Old Trafford. This will also be a make-or-break season for Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov.

Core group

Champion Chelsea has retained its core group of players but the entire squad is a year older. Having not made a marquee signing so far, it will again rely on Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry — either nearing 30 or on the wrong side of 30 already — to inspire the team.

City's riches have afforded it to splash the cash but the question remains: can it gel before Christmas? Otherwise this could be one very expensive failure; at least for another season.

This could also be the season when Manchester United finally overhauls Liverpool's 18 league titles. Or, the Merseyside club under new management, could win their 19th league title.

Last year, the competition was tight as eventual champion Chelsea beat Manchester United by a solitary point.

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