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After a summer of pretending to care whether Russia beat Holland and pondering why Gianluigi Buffon feels the need to wear a neckerchief, the Premier League is back and the sigh of relief is audible from Hull to Arsenal, Stoke to Spurs, Liverpool to Portsmouth etc...

We've missed it like Cristiano Ronaldo misses being out of the papers for more than eight seconds, like David O'Leary misses blaming the age of his squad for his own shortcomings, like Mark Hughes probably misses the cosy world of Blackburn now he's looked under the duvet at Manchester City.'s fleet of journalists have spent the summer pondering who'll go up and who's for the drop to deliver in-depth guides to all 20 Premier League clubs. You'll not agree with all of them, in fact some of them will have you mouthing obscenities fruitier than a bag of Opal Fruits (Yes, they're back) so feel free to email in your praise/scorn and we'll publish the best/most complimentary of your responses.

Sir Alex Ferguson usually embraces a mantra of buy when you're strong but after consecutive titles the Scot has failed to add to his Manchester United ranks this summer, despite a squad that houses a plethora of talent but only three senior strikers.

There have been murmurs of Thierry Henry buying a Manc dictionary and Dimitar Berbatov was spotted wearing an anorak but Ferguson insists he has the players to retain a crown the wounded warriors at Chelsea are desperate to wear again.
Berba in an anorak

Luiz Felipe Scolari seems quite a character and will certainly wake up those journalists left comatose by Avram Grant last season. The Brazilian appears to like a laugh but behind the cheery facade there is a steely resolve that will demand first rate application and performances from his Chelsea players. Sound like anyone familiar?

Deco's arrival adds a sublime guile to the athleticism of Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard, while Jose Bosingwa should finally cure Chelsea's Achilles heel at right-back. John Terry has spent the summer beating his chest and exclaiming how he wants his trophy back; come May and his sessions in a padded cell may no longer be needed.

Arsenal's title challenge last season floundered due to a lack of leaders so the departures of Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto, when allied to Alexander Hleb's exit is hardly likely to improve their chances this time around. Arsene Wenger retains complete faith in his 'work in progress' but while they'll undoubtedly play some wonderful football and unearth some sparkling new jewels, are they in danger of becoming the Premier League's Crewe? Pretty on the eye but in reality a feeder club for those higher up the football pyramid.

There is something in the air on Merseyside. The acquisition of Robbie Keane sees Liverpool finally able to twin two strikers that, all being well, should score 20+ goals and in the case of Fernando Torres, possibly 30+. Keane is the most natural heir to Anfield's famed No.7 shirt since Nigel Clough or Harry Kewell. Joking aside, many are predicting the Irishman to be the final cog in Rafa Benitez's masterplan - although the return of Daniel Agger is arguably just as important.

Robbie's Keane

This is the best squad Liverpool have had in Benitez's tenure and arguably since their glory days. Put simply, if Liverpool don't challenge this season then it could be 'Adios Rafa'.

Another Spaniard plying his trade in the Premier League is the charming but ruthless Juande Ramos. Having had the best part of a season to evaluate his squad, and win a trophy, Ramos has set about dismantling at some speed. The cull has involved broad strokes while the acquisitions of Luka Modric, Giovani dos Santos, David Bentley and Heurelho Gomes have whetted the appetites of the White Hart Lane faithful. In pre-season Spurs have been gloriously entertaining and Darren Bent nothing less than sensational. They may not quite have the steel to break into the top four but Ramos' brand of grown-up Ossie Ardiles football will be a treat for the neutral.

While optimism reigns supreme in the capital, travel north to Goodison Park and the pervading mood is one of frustration. David Moyes has repeatedly been thwarted in the transfer market and could struggle to build on the first class foundations he has laid over the past couple of campaigns.

Over at North-West neighbours Blackburn it's all change as Paul Ince has completed a remarkable metamorphosis from managing at the bottom rung of the Football League to its summit in the blink of an eye. Mixed reports are coming out of Ewood Park and if more top players follow the leads of Brad Friedel and Bentley then it could be a tough baptism of fire for their latest incumbent.

Ince's promotion came about due to Mark Hughes' defection to Manchester City, a decision that is looking decidedly suspect by the day. While Rovers were the quintessential well-run ship, with Hughes the captain, Manchester's other great soap opera continues to add ever more implausible sub-plots. Thaksin Shinawatra's position appears to be somewhat murky, if Hughes isn't granted new signings soon then his own role could be brought into question.

Aston Villa have gone about their business in a typically understated manner and while the acquisitions of Nicky Shorey and Luke Young don't make you go weak at the knees, they add much needed depth to a squad looking to build on last season's excellent sixth place finish.

Crouch coup

Portsmouth have demonstrated their ambition with the noticeable capture of Peter Crouch and should push for European football once more, while it's difficult to see anything more than midtable mediocrity for a Newcastle side that have not made the raft of signings anticipated.

Roy Keane has been astute in his market moves by bringing in Spurs trio Steed Malbranque, Teemu Tainio and Pascal Chimbonba - a coup that should see Sunderland move from basement dwellers to midtable respectability.

Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate continues to build a youthful squad at The Riverside, which should be fine just as long Afonso Alves continues where he left off last season, while West Ham supporters have been less than impressed with a close-season of inactivity. However, should Dean Ashton and Craig Bellamy manage to stay off the treatment table for any sustained period then a potent partnership should blossom in claret and blue.

Despite keeping the club up last season Bolton boss Gary Megson still has his detractors. He'll be praying Johan Elmander is not the new Rolando Bianchi after shelling out a hefty fee to land the Swede.

Basement dwellers

Wigan look to have added a couple of decent signings to their ranks but goalsoring remains an issue that needs to be addressed if they are to make genuine progress. The same can be said of Fulham; Roy Hodgson has been as busy as any other manager over the summer and the signings of Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora should provide the goals to keep top flight football at Craven Cottage.

Which leaves us with those sides promoted. Stepping into the unknown is always a nerve wracking experience, especially when the unknown is full of seasoned sharks smelling new blood. Getting a decent start will be imperative to avoid any Derby-like fiascos, although the bookies are predicting an immediate Championship return for West Brom, Stoke and Hull.

It is Tony Mowbray's stylish Baggies that have been tipped to be the best of the aforementioned trio, but then playing good football in the Championship and playing good football in the Premier League is a whole different ball game.

To date, Stoke have struggled perhaps the most to attract the right calibre of player and it could be Tony Pulis' side that props up the rest of the division come May.
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