Sat, Aug 08, 2015 - Page 19 News List

Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur to launch scramble to usurp the Blues

AFP, LONDON

Manchester United open the new English Premier League season at home to Tottenham Hotspur today looking for signs that they are ready to mount a sustained assault on Chelsea’s title.

Last season’s equivalent fixture, a 3-0 home win on March 15, proved the belated catalyst for a run of form that ensured Louis van Gaal ended his first season as manager with United back in the UEFA Champions League places, but with £77 million (US$120 million) having been spent on new players including Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, United have set their sights a little higher.

“[Last season] we could see that we were getting better gradually, but we just needed that consistency in our performances and then, obviously, in results,” United captain Wayne Rooney told ESPN. “But we could see in each game we were getting better. I feel this season for the first time, rather than the last two seasons, we’re ready to challenge again.”

Today’s lunchtime game at Old Trafford will give United’s fans a clearer idea of how their team will line up this season, with Rooney expected to lead the line as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 formation.

Tottenham finished fifth last season, six points below fourth-placed United, and will hope to make a more convincing case for UEFA Champions League qualification, despite a relatively quiet summer transfer window.

Spurs’ defense has been bolstered by the arrivals of Toby Alderweireld, Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier, but in attack Harry Kane is under pressure to repeat the feats of his stunning 31-goal breakthrough season.

Chelsea begin their title defense at home to Swansea City, who will be looking to repeat their sensational opening-day exploits from last season, when they won 2-1 against United at Old Trafford.

The champions have spluttered in pre-season, failing to win any of their five games and losing 1-0 to Arsenal in the Community Shield, and they could be without last season’s top scorer Diego Costa due to a hamstring injury.

Chelsea finished eight points above second-placed Manchester City, the outgoing champions, in May, but manager Jose Mourinho believes this season’s title race will be a much tighter affair.

“Maybe I’m wrong, but I think fewer points will win the title,” Mourinho said. “You have a minimum of five title contenders and the other teams get stronger and stronger. Every club has very good players, so I think it’s difficult for the top teams in England because of the competitive nature.”

Arsenal, bolstered by the arrival from Chelsea of goalkeeper Petr Cech, begin their season with a home fixture against London rivals West Ham United, who now have their former defender Slaven Bilic at the helm.

City travel to West Bromwich Albion on Monday, while Liverpool, sixth last season, start out at Stoke City, where they were dealt a humiliating 6-1 defeat on last season’s final day.

“We didn’t end the last season particularly well and I think we owe it to the fans to make amends,” Liverpool midfielder Emre Can said. “This is why the first few matches are especially important. I think we can start to put [the Stoke result] right with a few good results.”

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is expected to hand competitive debuts to a number of new signings, including James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke.

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