The Premier League season begins on Saturday following a record summer of transfer spending in England’s top league.
The 20 top-flight clubs have invested an estimated £647m – £17m more than in the whole of last summer – with experts believing the figure could reach £1bn.
Manchester United, under new boss Louis van Gaal, kick off the season in the early game against Swansea.
Chelsea start as favourites, while ManchesterCity are the holders.
It is the second year in a row that Manchester United start with a new manager, with Van Gaal looking to improve on the seventh-placed finish achieved by predecessor David Moyes.
The Dutchman is one of four new bosses in the league, while 10 players have come in for fees of £20m or more, with Alexis Sanchez’s £35m move to Arsenal the biggest so far.
The record summer spending comes with the Premier League in the second year of a three-year TV package with BT Sport and Sky, worth over £1bn per season.
Prize money for the winners, including their share of television money, is likely to be near £100m. Last year, ManchesterCity earned £96.5m, £1m less than second-placed
Liverpool, who earned more as they were on television more times.
Cardiff, who finished bottom and were relegated, earned £62m.
The major innovation this season is the vanishing spray introduced at the World Cup, which sees the referee spray a white line, which disappears after a short period, on the pitch to ensure a defensive wall stands 10 yards away from a free-kick taker.
The season promises to produce one of the most open title races in memory, with five teams expected to battle for the championship.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has gone two years without winning a trophy, having won one in each of the nine seasons before that, but has added more than £80m of talent to his side this summer.
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini won the league last term in his first season in England but has been hindered in the transfer market this summer by a transfer cap for breaching Uefa’s financial fair play (FFP) rules – although he has still spent £50m.
The club have also had their wage bill capped and can only name 21 players, instead of 25, in their Champions League squad.
After leaving his job as Netherlands boss to take up the position vacated at Old Trafford by Moyes, Van Gaal has already made his mark, bringing in Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera for £29m and making Southampton left-back Luke Shaw the most expensive teenager in the history of football – paying an initial fee of £27m for the English 18-year-old.
Arsenal, meanwhile, won their first trophy in nine years when they beat Hull in the FA Cup final in May, and are bidding for their first league title in 11 years, boosted by the signing of Barcelona forward Sanchez.
The Gunners won the Community Shield, the annual season curtain-raiser, 3-0 against Manchester City at Wembley last Sunday.
Liverpool mounted a surprise title challenge last season, leading the table at the beginning of May, but may struggle for a repeat after selling 31-goal top scorer Luis Suarez to Barcelona in a £75m deal.
One of the major talking points of the summer was Southampton’s sale of five key players.
Following the departure of manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham, they sold Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert to Liverpool – who they face on Sunday – for a combined £49m, plus Shaw to Manchester United and Calum Chambers to Arsenal for £16m. They also loaned out Dani Osvaldo, who was their £15m record signing last summer, to Inter Milan.
Seven clubs will represent England in European competition this season, with Manchester United missing out for the first time since 1989-90.
ManchesterCity, Liverpool and Chelsea qualified automatically for the Champions League group stages, with Arsenal needing to play Besiktas in a play-off.
Everton, Tottenham and Hull will play in Europe’s second tier cup, the Europa League.
The three new teams in the top flight following promotion are QPR, Leicester and Burnley.
(Source: BBC Sports)
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