Terry predicting hardest ever Premier League
© AFP

Chelsea captain John Terry is predicting the most fiercely contested title race in years as the Premier League kicks-off on Saturday after a summer of lavish spending by English football's elite.

Terry believes defending champions Manchester United remain the team to beat after bolstering their playing staff with the signings of England forward Ashley Young, Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea and Blackburn defender Phil Jones. But the 30-year-old Stamford Bridge defender believes that half a dozen teams could realistically challenge for the title, pointing to Manchester City and Liverpool's bold raids in the transfer market.

"I'm worried about a lot of teams this season. Everyone has strengthened," said Terry at this week's official launch of the Premier League. "Manchester City and Manchester United have bought in some good players, Liverpool seemed to have strengthened a lot. There are six or seven teams who can really push and have a chance of winning the trophy."

Terry is adamant however that Manchester United will represent the biggest hurdle if Chelsea are to reclaim the crown they last won in 2010. "We can catch Manchester United," said Terry. "They have been the benchmark for 20 years. We pushed them to the end last season but missed out.

"We all see their quality and the hunger they have and that the manager has too. It really drives me on and seeing them lift the trophy last year still hurts to this day. I want to get my hands back on it and lift it. The competition is improving every year. The players are getting stronger and the managers want it even more."

Chelsea open their campaign with a potentially awkward away trip to Stoke on Sunday, while Manchester United get their quest for a 20th league title under way against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.

There are six or seven teams who can really push and have a chance of winning the trophy.
Chelsea captain John Terry

After a humbling denouement to last season, when United were outplayed by Barcelona in their UEFA Champions League final defeat at Wembley, Sir Alex Ferguson has wasted no time in launching the latest rebuilding project of his remarkable 25-year reign at Old Trafford. The arrival of Young, De Gea, and Jones, combined with the return from loan spells of Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, has instantly given United's squad a more youthful, vibrant look.

United's French international Patrice Evra was bullish about his team's prospects for the season ahead. "I know the other teams will never give up but without lacking respect to anyone, if Manchester United plays at its level it will be very difficult to beat us," Evra said. "United's main opponent is United. I'm confident not arrogant. Chelsea is our second strongest opponent."

United are also bracing for a sustained challenge from local rivals Manchester City, who have spent more than £50 million this summer with the recruitment of Sergio Aguero, Gael Clichy and Stefan Savic. City, who secured Champions League football last year as well as ending their 35-year wait for a trophy, face newly-promoted Swansea at Eastlands on Monday.

Arsenal meanwhile embark on what could be a defining season with a trip to St James Park to face Newcastle, a ground where the Gunners squandered a 4-0 lead last term as the Magpies snatched a 4-4 draw.

By the time Saturday's match rolls around, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger could well be facing up to a future without two of his most influential players - captain Cesc Fabregas and playmaker Samir Nasri. Both Fabregas and Nasri are expected to complete moves to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively before the new season starts with Wenger admitting the Fabregas situation could be resolved "very quickly."

Liverpool meanwhile begin their first full season under the control of Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish since 1990 with a home tie against Sunderland.

Tottenham's match against Everton on Saturday is the lone victim of the London riots, with authorities opting to postpone the fixture on safety grounds.