Lot riding on Chelsea striker Diego Costa this EPL season
If star striker can stay fit for most of the season, Chelsea will defend the EPL title. But if he's a fitful starter, and there are worrying signs that the hamstring problem is a recurring one, the two Manchester clubs and Arsenal will fancy their chances
Manchester City left it to the final day of the season to clinch their titles, seeing off their cross-town rivals in 2011-12 and Liverpool two seasons later. Sir Alex Ferguson and United cantered home in his final campaign in charge, as did Jose Mourinho last season after the much publicised return to Stamford Bridge nearly two years earlier.
Diego Costa. Pic/Getty Images
Once again, vast sums have been staked in the transfer market as sides look to challenge Chelsea's supremacy. The key player, however, isn't a new arrival, but an individual that moved to West London over a year ago. When his hamstrings are in fine fettle, Diego Costa is a defender's nightmare, an old-style bruiser of a centre forward with a delicate touch and a cynical edge to his game.
Till he got injured last season, Chelsea were going along like a locomotive. After his hamstring gave way, their defensive qualities came to the fore, with Nemanja Matic especially impressive in his holding-midfielder role. If Costa can stay fit for most of the season, Chelsea will win the title. But if he's a fitful starter, and there are worrying signs that the hamstring problem is a recurring one, the two Manchester clubs and Arsenal will fancy their chances.
Remy is no Costa
Loic Remy is no Costa, and if what we saw during the Community Shield was any indication, Radamel Falcao will never again be the forward he was before that awful knee injury. Falcao, such a letdown on loan at United last season, moved as though wearing cement boots, with the bursts of acceleration that once made him so feared nowhere to be seen. Long-time Chelsea supporters will also worry about the impact of one of their summer sales.
For a decade, Petr Cech was the bedrock of one of the most imposing defences on the continent. The arrival of Thibault Courtois, so influential in Atletico Madrid's run to the La Liga title and Champions League final in 2013-14, pushed him to the substitutes bench, and prompted the eventual move across town to Arsenal.
Ever since Jens Lehmann's form started to slip, Arsenal have lacked a truly imposing 'keeper. By recruiting Cech, Arsene Wenger has found the biggest missing piece in his team jigsaw. If Alexis Sanchez stays fit and reprises his form of last season, Arsenal will challenge till the end. Doubts remain over the heart of the defence, but they have creativity aplenty and the bank balance to splurge on someone like Karim Benzema if Real do decide to sell him. Despite his purple patches, Olivier Giroud is not really the quality of striker you need to win the title.
United have sold Robin van Persie, opted not to retain Falcao and also made clear that Javier Hernandez has no future at Old Trafford. They've been linked with Bayern's Thomas Muller all summer, but it would be a shock if Pep Guardiola sanctioned that sale.
The one German addition to Louis van Gaal's squad is an intriguing one. When fully fit, Bastian Schweinsteiger is the boss of midfield players, a commanding physical presence with the eye for the killer pass and a nose for goal. The problem is that he has rarely been fit the past few seasons, a fact that Guardiola reiterated after sanctioning his sale.
Instead, it could be Morgan Schneiderlin that proves to be van Gaal's most astute midfield signing. A star of Southampton's recent renaissance, he offers the presence that United's midfield have lacked since the failure to adequately replace Roy Keane all those years ago. Of all of Ferguson's mistakes, few were as awful as the failure to keep Paul Pogba happy at Old Trafford. After going to Juventus, where he got the game time denied him at United, Pogba has become the world's most coveted young midfielder.
Across town, Manuel Pellegrini has run out of time. Raheem Sterling has arrived from Liverpool, but there's once again the sense that City's campaign will depend on Sergio Aguero's fitness. With rumours rife that the owners will pursue Guardiola next season, Pellegrini will need his old stalwarts, most notably David Silva and Yaya Toure, to shine.
Liverpool, who have bought astutely this summer — if he gets the right service, Christian Benteke will rival Aguero and Costa for scoring honours — but both they and Tottenham lack the depth to sustain a title challenge. As for rank outsiders likely to challenge for a European place, look no further than Alan Pardew's Crystal Palace. Promoted Bournemouth could also surprise a few people under Eddie Howe's stewardship.
Dileep Premachandran is Wisden India's editor-in-chief