Sat, Aug 11, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Big four expected to dominate the Premier League

AFP, LONDON

The English Premiership, followed avidly by millions around the world, returns today with a host of new faces on show but with the big four set once again to monopolize the title battle.

Champions Manchester United have reinforced their squad as they try to keep Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal from snatching the Premiership trophy.

Liverpool have the chance to set the pace today at Aston Villa while their three major rivals kick their heels until tomorrow when the champions host Reading, Chelsea welcome promoted Birmingham City, while Arsenal kick off with a London derby at home to Fulham.

Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz insists the Red Devils were raring to get stuck into Reading.

"We are ready," he said. "We believe the boys are fully prepared. We realize it is a different ball game now. The Premier League is starting, it has a different atmosphere, different problems and there is a different intensity. But everybody is very excited by the challenge."

United have added youthful verve to a side already stuffed with world-class players.

England midfielder Owen Hargreaves, Portugal winger Nani, Argentina striker Carlos Tevez and Brazilian midfielder Anderson have all been drafted into Old Trafford.

Injury problems have stripped FA Cup holders Chelsea of captain John Terry and main striker Didier Drogba as they kick off their campaign to regain the Premiership trophy.

"Fair play to Manchester United -- they have gone out and bought some very talented players, but we have a real amount of belief in our squad," the Blues' England midfielder Frank Lampard said ahead of Birmingham's visit.

"We believe we are the top team -- but it does not matter saying it now because it makes no difference. We want to be champions again, it is as simple as that. As soon as the season starts and the sooner we start showing that, the better," he said.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has spent heavily in the pre-season, with ?27 million (US$54.7 million) Spain striker Fernando Torres the biggest catch as he hopes to land the Reds a first ever Premiership title.

"We have a side to score more goals, play good football and win more games," Benitez said. "I look at the squad of United and see their quality, and Chelsea built a team over five or six years spending hundreds of millions. They no longer need to spend at the same level. We have more pace and quality. Away from home, especially, we have a lot more options."

Arsenal, meanwhile, start Premiership life without their talismanic former captain Thierry Henry. France center back William Gallas has taken over the armband.

Brazil midfielder Gilberto Silva is still recovering from the Copa America, while Emmanuel Adebayor is doubtful with a groin problem.

Gilberto may not play before September, manager Arsene Wenger said.

"It will take two or three weeks to get him ready. If you don't do that he will suffer during rest of the season," the Frenchman said.

The first Premiership match kicks off at the Stadium of Light, where Roy Keane's promoted Sunderland take on Tottenham Hotspur.

Both sides have spent heavily in the pre-season, with Keane eager to make his mark as a top-flight manager and Spurs looking to break into the top four, thus earning a Champions League spot.

Newcastle United manager Sam Allardyce returns to Bolton Wanderers just three months after quitting the Trotters, amid a growing war of words between him and his former chairman Phil Gartside.

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