Premier League: Chelsea to begin title defence

Jose Mourinho predicts 'stronger' league

Chelsea begin their bid to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 2006 when the new Premier League season gets under way on Saturday.

The Blues will have to fend off challenges from Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool - who have all strengthened over the summer - and boss Jose Mourinho, who signed a new four-year contract on Friday, expects the coming campaign to be one of the most competitive yet.

"Every club has very good players so I think it's difficult for the top teams in England because of the competitive nature," he said.

"None of the big leagues in Europe have started yet. Not Italy, not Germany, not Spain. So I think everyone is waiting for Saturday. Finally proper football starts."

This is set to be the most watched season in Premier League history, with matches broadcast in 212 territories and a global television audience of 4.7 billion.

The team to beat

Chelsea led from start to finish to win last season's Premier League title by eight points in the second year of Mourinho's second spell in charge at the club.

Jermaine Jenas: Jose Mourinho 'will fear' Arsenal challenge

There is time yet in the transfer window, but so far Mourinho has resisted the urge to significantly improve his squad, with former Manchester United loanee Radamel Falcao and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic the highest-profile additions.

However, with a unit packed full of international talent, including Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, they remain favourites for this season's title with most bookmakers and pundits.

And with some of their rivals.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes that Chelsea and Mourinho - with whom he shares a spiky relationship - are the ones to beat. However he adds that a better start from his own side could propel them above the Blues.

"Chelsea won it by a margin last year so they are the favourites," he said.

"Last year after 12 games we were 15 points behind Chelsea, and in the next 26 we took 58 points and Chelsea 55.

"So let's start strong this season and I believe we have the needed ingredients."

Mourinho's men start against Swansea at Stamford Bridge in Saturday's evening kick-off, while Arsenal host West Ham on Sunday lunchtime.

Ex-England striker Alan Shearer said on BBC Radio 5 live: "Mourinho is the best manager. He makes up points. If he was in charge of any of the top four, I would put them favourites to win the title."

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The newcomers

Bournemouth, managed by Eddie Howe (pictured), are in the Premier League for the first time in history

Replacing last season's bottom three - Hull, QPR and Burnley - are Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich, who achieved promotion from the Championship last campaign.

The Canaries and Hornets have graced the Premier League before; the former having had three stints with the most recent being a three-season stay from 2011 to 2014 and the latter having had two single campaigns (1999-2000 and 2006-07).

The Cherries are embarking on their maiden top-flight season following a remarkable seven-year journey that has taken them from the brink of liquidation, followed by a narrow escape from dropping out of the Football League, to the big time.

"It's been a tough summer but an enjoyable one. My wife will tell you that I have had no time off," Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe said.

"My aim is to try to be Bournemouth manager this time next year. That means we've achieved our objective."

Bournemouth's first top-division fixture is at home against Aston Villa, while Norwich host Crystal Palace.

Watford - who changed managers in the summer from the man who oversaw their eventual promotion, Slavisa Jokanovic, to Quique Sanchez Flores - travel to Everton.

BBC Sport chief football writer Phil McNulty:
"Bournemouth played so well in the Championship in a style that might just suit the Premier League under outstanding young manager Eddie Howe. A team to watch - and one that might just stay up."
Read more from McNulty's Premier League predictions

Welcome back

Steve McClaren, Claudio Ranieri and Slaven Bilic all return to the Premier League this season
Steve McClaren, Claudio Ranieri and Slaven Bilic all return to the Premier League this season

The 2014-15 season sees three figures from Premier Leagues past return to the English top flight in managerial roles.

Steve McClaren has taken over at Newcastle, nine and a half years after leaving his job as neighbours Middlesbrough boss to take charge of England.

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The original "Tinkerman" Claudio Ranieri - so named because of his propensity to change his starting XI during his spell as Chelsea boss from 2000 to 2004 - is the new man in charge at Leicester following their parting of ways with Nigel Pearson.

"I am a fighter," Ranieri declared earlier this week. "I want to fight for every match. In England everybody wants to fight against everybody."

And former Croatia and Besiktas boss Slaven Bilic is back at Upton Park, where he earned cult status playing in the centre of the Hammers defence for a season and a half between 1996 and 1997.

The 46-year-old, who succeeded Sam Allardyce, has had an eventful start to his second West Ham career, having three men sent off in six Europa League qualifying games as they were knocked out of the competition.

Hey big spenders

Bastian Schweinsteiger, Raheem Sterling, Christian Benteke, Yohan Cabaye
(Top left to bottom right), Bastian Schweinsteiger, Raheem Sterling, Christian Benteke and Yohan Cabaye will all be starting out at new clubs this season

Transfer spending in the Premier League has passed £500m this summer and with just over three weeks remaining in the window, there is every reason to believe it will move closer to the record £835m spent by top-flight clubs last off-season.

Liverpool have been busy, bringing in striker Christian Benteke from Aston Villa for £32.5m, forward Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim for £29m and Nathaniel Clyne from Southampton for £12.5m, amongst others, some of which were funded by the sale of England forward Raheem Sterling to Manchester City for £49m.

Christian Benteke scores stunning volley

Manchester United have backed boss Louis van Gaal again, allowing him to bring in forward Memphis Depay, midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin and defender Matteo Darmian for a combined total reportedly not far off £90m.

Van Gaal might not be done yet, either, with the Dutch coach suggesting United are still lacking some flair. "We can use much more creativity," he said during the club's pre-season tour of the United States.

Apart from incomings, there could still be one significant outgoing before the end of the month.

The future of goalkeeper David De Gea - linked with Real Madrid - remains unresolved, and Van Gaal has decided to leave him out of his squad for Saturday's game against Tottenham (12:45 BST).

"We have problems with De Gea," he said. "I think the human being is more than only the player and I don't think he can manage that."

Crystal Palace's £14m capture of Yohan Cabaye, the £30m spent by Newcastle on Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic and the spending sprees at Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham show that money is being spent across the division as clubs use the imminent proceeds of a record television deal to ensure they continue to benefit from the riches bestowed on the country's elite.

The £5.136bn three-year deal which starts next summer gives clubs an even bigger incentive to stay in the Premier League.

"I'm very pleased with the improvements," said Palace boss Alan Pardew. "I like to think we're an exciting team. It's dangerous to say that at the start of the season but I think we are."

The spending by other clubs has also not gone unnoticed by Mourinho, who said: "They have players who could play in our teams - Cabaye could play for Chelsea, Wijnaldum could play for Chelsea, Max Gradel [signed by Bournemouth] could play for Chelsea."

Football League

With the 2016 European Championship starting on 10 June, this Premier League season starts a week early, depriving the Football League of its usual one-week of grace before the big boys take the limelight.

However, this won't prevent fans flocking in their thousands to watch one of the 72 clubs that populate the Championship, League's One and Two.

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