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Saturday, Aug. 11, 2007
Can anybody challenge Manchester United, Chelsea for title?
LONDON — In life you generally get what you pay for.
A £40,000 car will be better than one costing £10,000. A £500,000 house will be bigger than one worth £150,000.
With more than £300 million invested in new talent it is surely impossible for the 2007-08 Premiership season to be anything other than the most exciting, open and competitive in the Premier League's 15-year history.
While European champion AC Milan has spent not a single euro in the transfer market, Liverpool, the runnerup in the Champions League final last May, has splashed out £61 million, one-third of that on Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres.
Premiership champion Manchester United has invested £62 million to strengthen what proved to be the best squad in English football last season.
Just about everywhere you look in the Premiership clubs have adopted a "spend, spend, spend" policy this summer — with the least successful team guaranteed £30 million in television revenue this season, the price of glory and failure has never been so marked.
The winners of the Premiership will probably need to win at least 90 points.
Any side that loses more than five matches can forget about the title. The bar is raised each season and United's 89 points last season were 21 more than Liverpool and Arsenal managed.
That is a huge gap to make up, but the chasing pack has done its best to ensure it is not a two-horse race between United and Chelsea again.
United finally signed Bayern Munich's holding midfield player Owen Hargreaves for £17 million.
The Carlos Tevez transfer saga thankfully ended when United signed the Argentine from West Ham, the most complicated and boring deal in football history.
United even paid £17 million each for Nani (Sporting Lisbon) and Anderson (FC Porto), who are unlikely to win a regular starting place this season.
United should have the mother of all substitutes' benches.
Chelsea starts the season with so many injuries it should be sponsored by the Red Cross, its exhaustive tour to the United States taking its toll.
However, such is its strength in depth manager Jose Mourinho can always select a team better than most other's first-choice XI.
Given how much Chelsea has spent over the past three years there would be a steward's inquiry if that were not the case.
French winger Florent Malouda and Steve Sidwell, a Bosman free transfer from Reading, will give Mourinho even more options in midfield, while the arrival of Tal Bel Haim (Bolton) and Brazilian Alex (PSV) should mean Chelsea does not have to play players out of position when there are defensive injuries.
Arsenal lost Thierry Henry to Barcelona and as great player as the Frenchman was for the Gunners, he was rarely fit last season and word has it he was a negative influence in the dressing room on other players.
His successor is Croatian Eduardo, who could be a sensation, while Robin van Persie should blossom without the shadow of Henry looming over him.
Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal has played the best football in the Premiership but is too often over-elaborate. It must be more ruthless, because having 21 goal chances and losing is not a statistic that the Frenchman wants to see again.
It is surprising that neither United nor Arsenal signed a top-class goalkeeper this summer.
Jens Lehman of Arsenal will soon be 38, while in October United's Edwin van der Sar will have 37 candles to blow out on his birthday cake.
Can it sustain the consistency needed to win the Premiership?
In Petr Cech Chelsea has the goalkeeper many consider to be the best in the world.
Pepe Reina of Liverpool will give manager Rafa Benitez few sleepless nights.
Maybe, just maybe the goalkeeping situation will work against United and Arsenal at a level where there is no room for error.
Reina will have a lot of new teammates, and Liverpool must quickly fit its new recruits into a cohesive team pattern.
Ditto Tottenham, which seems to have done well during the transfer window by signing Gareth Bale (Southampton), Darren Bent (Charlton), Adel Taarabt (Lens), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Hertha Berlin) and Yuri Berbiche (Athletic Bilbao).
Crucially, it managed to keep striker Dimitir Berbatov, who now has a better supporting cast.
Sven-Goran Eriksson is back in English football with Manchester City has spent £36 million of new Thai owner Thakskin Shinawatra's money.
The names may be unfamiliar but regular observers of European football have been impressed by Eriksson's new recruits, notably Rolando Bianchi (Reggina), Elano (Shakhtar Donetsk) and Martin Petrov (Atletico Madrid).
Sam Allardyce jumped ship from Bolton and is now at Newcastle, where the fitness of Michael Owen will be important.
Northeast rival Sunderland is back in the big time where Roy Keane will be keen to show he can manage as well as he played.
Keane made Craig Gordon, at £9 million from Hearts, the most expensive goalkeeper in British League history.
The Scot is among £26.5 million of new faces at the Stadium of Light, where survival — unusually for serial winner Keane — will be the priority.
The other promoted clubs, Derby and Birmingham, look set for a season of struggle.
Wigan escaped relegation by the skin of its teeth last time around.
Inspirational manager Paul Jewell has been replaced by Chris Hutchins and the £7.6 million spent this summer is loose change by most Premiership clubs' standards.
Middlesbrough is also likely to have its backs to the wall along with Fulham, while Bolton, overachieving under Allardyce, could have a reality check now that Sammy Lee is in charge.
Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for London Daily Telegraph.