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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK
Alan Hansen's title verdict

By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho
Mourinho has bought two absolute beauties in Drogba and Carvalho
The countdown to the Premiership kick-off is under way and I expect the usual suspects to be contesting the championship once again.

Arsenal will be looking to secure the back-to-back titles that is the hallmark of a side that truly wants to call itself a great team.

Manchester United have proved they are the masters of regaining a title that slipped away in the previous campaign.

But if I had to bet on it, my money would be on Jose Mourinho's Chelsea.

I felt Chelsea needed a right-back after last season, but in particular a new central defender and a striker to give them extra cutting edge.

And make no mistake, in Ricardo Carvalho and Didier Drogba, they have acquired some serious quality.

How they integrate into the Premiership is a question yet to be answered, but no-one can argue with the quality Mourinho has invested in this summer.

Carvalho was, along with Sol Campbell, the best defender at Euro 2004.

Carvalho seems to have it all. Great pace, great technique, positionally sound, strong, good in the air and very decent on the ball.

Drogba looked a real menace in Marseille's run to the Uefa Cup final last season, a powerful goalscorer with pace and ability to trouble anyone.

Manchester United striker Alan Smith
Alan Smith is a very good player, not a great one, but will improve

I was never one of those who said money could buy the title, but I'm beginning to think Chelsea will do exactly that.

If you ally these new buys to the talent they already have, it's awesome.

I now fancy Chelsea strongly to go on and win the title, especially with Mourinho now in charge of the team.

He knows how to win the biggest prize, the Champions League, and has great confidence in his ability.

Chelsea had a very decent season last year, coming second behind a team that went the league season without losing.

And in reality, they should have won the Champions League if it wasn't for some extraordinary decisions by Claudio Ranieri, so the base is there already.

Everything really is in place, and most of the players have already had one season together in the Premiership.

Chelsea have paid 44m for Drogba and Carvalho, which has raised eyebrows throughout football, but in reality the fees don't matter to Roman Abramovich.

The only time it will matter is if he walks away, and we are well past that.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger would have loved that pair, but they knew if they offered 15m, Chelsea would simply blow them out of the water.

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger need back-to-back titles to be called great

So I believe this is enough to give Chelsea their first title in 50 years.

Manchester United have bounced back to win the title every year after they have lost it, but this will be harder.

History, however, has told us never to write off United or Sir Alex Ferguson because of their magnificent record, despite a dreadful finish last season.

Every time we say Ferguson is facing his biggest challenge, he promptly rises to it, and he has already made it clear the league is his priority.

This really is a massive challenge for Ferguson because he is facing up to a very strong Arsenal team and a Chelsea squad with unreal strength in depth.

United, in personnel, don't look that strong and in the last six weeks of last season were unbelievably poor.

United have signed Alan Smith, who I think is a very good player as opposed to a great one, but he is young and there is room for improvement.

On the plus side, Rio Ferdinand returns after his suspension in September.

They were strong and reliable at the back when he was there, so we should see a marked improvement in that area.

If Rafael Benitez can just put Liverpool back in the top three, he can rightly regard that as a remarkable achievement
But there is no doubt United face their stiffest test yet when it comes to regaining their coveted title.

Arsenal, with or without Patrick Vieira, are capable of retaining the crown they won without losing a league game last time out.

And they know that if they truly want to be regarded as a great team, they must win back-to-back titles.

It is certainly within their capabilities, but if someone handed me the cash to bet on the destiny of the title, I would put it on Chelsea.

Liverpool, under new manager Rafael Benitez, can only get better after last season's poor performances.

The bonus is Steven Gerrard is staying, because I have no doubt that he was signing for Chelsea at one stage.

But if Benitez can just put Liverpool back in the top three, he can rightly regard that as a remarkable achievement.

I don't see any serious contenders outside the top three, with only Liverpool and Newcastle worthy of mention outside that group.

But I can't see Liverpool winning it, because as I said a top three finish would constitute a huge improvement.

Newcastle have splashed out on James Milner, Nicky Butt and Patrick Kluivert for Sir Bobby Robson's final season.

But I think they will have to aim for fourth because I don't think they can be considered for the title.




VOTE RESULTS
Who will win the Premiership?
Arsenal
32%
Chelsea
27%
Liverpool
14%
Man Utd
18%
Newcastle
4%
Other
5%
44500 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Vote now closed





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