COMMENTARY | Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea finished first, second and third, respectively, in the 2012-13 Premier League season. One short summer later, all three clubs at the top of the English game have replaced their managers, and Jose Mourinho, David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini all come into the season expected to win the league.
In Sir Alex Ferguson's sendoff season, Manchester United easily cruised to the title with second-place Manchester City finishing the season 11 points back.
Behind United, the gap between the next four teams was a combined six points, so England, ultimately, was not entirely the clear-cut United-City-Chelsea hierarchy most viewers remembered last season. Yes, United was the best and City may have finished second, but Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham were all within striking distance of that runner-up position.
With Moyes on the sidelines, United is in uncharted territory and expected to return to the pack. Fret not, Fergie worshipers. Robin van Persie's Community Shield performance quickly reminded Premier League football fans that RVP is still top of the heap when it comes to Premiership strikers. Along with helping Moyes instantly break his United trophy duck, Van Persie also reminded the country that the Dutchman was still a Red Devil, and consequently, United was still the team to beat.
Apart from Wilfried Zaha, who was secured in January with Ferguson still holding the reins, arriving at Old Trafford, United has not deserved attention on the transfer front. Cesc Fabregas does not appear to be on his way, and Wayne Rooney is making his annual request for a change of scenery. At this point, even Carlos Tevez is beginning to think Rooney needs to shut up and just play football.
Speaking of Tevez, he has finally moved on from City along with axed boss Roberto Mancini. Pellegrini's arrival from Malaga was accompanied by two Spanish signings: Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo. Along with that pair of attacking Spaniards, City further strengthened its attacking depth with the capture of Stevan Jovetic's via Fiorentina. With Eden Dzeko and Sergio Aguero sticking around, Pellegrini is spoiled for choice, but Negredo promises to make an instant impact.
City also bolstered an already robust midfield with Fernandinho relocating to Manchester from Shakhtar Donetsk. United may still be the team to beat, but it is hard to argue against City having the best squad in the Premier League.
One manager who would likely make the argument against Manchester City is Mourinho. The "Special One" is back at Chelsea, and he had his Blues looking sharp in preseason. The comparisons between Didier Drogba and Romelu Lukaku are not unwarranted, but at 20 years of age, perhaps, those comparisons should be forcefully ignored until Lukaku has spent a few more years at Stamford Bridge. In preseason, however, Lukaku previewed what should be a promising season for the Belgian international.
With Demba Ba still a capable finisher and Fernando Torres continuing to make positive strides, Chelsea's depth at forward is nothing to scoff at. Also, Andre Schurrle moved from Bayer Leverkusen over the summer, and the German international can play as a striker or on the wing. Since the "Three Musketeers" -- Oscar, Juan Mata, and Eden Hazard -- all returned, Chelsea can make a strong argument for possessing the most talented squad in the Premier League.
On the eve of the new campaign, odds show Manchester City and Chelsea neck-and-neck as the favorites with United close behind. The North London duo of Arsenal and Tottenham are next in line with the Gunners nearly three times as likely as Spurs to claim the spoils. Still, the odds point to a three-horse race with United slightly trailing on the eve of the season.
Ultimately, three new faces on the sidelines make a world of difference. Of the three, only one has previously won the English Premier League. Mourinho's return to the Bridge promises fireworks -- or firings -- but the Special One may well be the difference between Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City when the Premier League trophy is hoisted in May.
Shahan Ahmed is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports. He has covered the top five European football leagues for various outlets, most notably as Director of European Football with AccuScore. You can follow Shahan on Twitter @ShahanLA and @perfectpass.
- Sports & Recreation
- Manchester City
- Manchester United
- Premier League
- Jose Mourinho
- Manuel Pellegrini
- David Moyes