All eyes on English elite

With three of its teams having reached last season's UEFA Champions League semi-finals, and two of those having contested a thrilling final, England's Premier League enters its 17th season feeling rather smug about its position in world football.

And why not? Even Kaka, who plays for a club, in AC Milan, that dominated the European scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s, conceded last season that the previously pre-eminent Italian and Spanish top flights were struggling to keep pace. "The Premier League is the best, not only for this season, but for what its teams have done over the last few years," the Brazilian said. "We can say they are the best."

And as its clubs' unparalleled financial clout brings an even greater number of star players, so the attractiveness of the Premier League's 'product' continues to grow. As tomorrow's big kick-off approaches, there is certainly palpable worldwide excitement as the likes of Fernando Torres, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor prepare to lock horns once again for English football's premier prize.

The champions
Once known as the team everyone loved to hate, Manchester United proved popular champions last season. There was certainly plenty to admire in their swashbuckling attacking style that, thanks largely to the goals of Ronaldo and intelligent industry of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, succeeded despite the apparent lack of an orthodox centre-forward.

Having thus far stuck to the mantra that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it', Sir Alex Ferguson said earlier this week that he still hopes to make a major signing before the season gets underway in earnest, with a striker his top priority. The main question mark over United is whether Ronaldo can rediscover his scintillating form of last season after spending the summer embroiled in a much-publicised 'will he, won't he' transfer saga with Real Madrid. If he can, few would bet against Ferguson's side maintaining their domestic stranglehold, which has seen them finish on top in ten of the Premier League's first 16 seasons.

The challengers
Chelsea have succeeded Arsenal as Manchester United's principal rivals over recent seasons, and took the Red Devils all the way to a dramatic final day last season. This time around, bolstered by the arrivals of Portuguese duo Jose Bosingwa and Deco, and with Luiz Felipe Scolari in the dugout, the London outfit are being widely tipped to go one better. Once again, they will rely heavily on a formidable central spine comprised of Petr Cech, John Terry, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, who this week signed a new five-year contract.

Arsenal, whose challenge faltered last season as injuries took their toll, look to have been weakened over the summer by the departures of key players such as Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb. With doubts over whether newly-arrived youngsters Samir Nasri and Aaron Ramsey can be considered ready-made replacements, the feeling is that Arsene Wenger will have his work cut out attempting to dethrone his old rival Ferguson.

As for Liverpool, the Premier League's great underachievers' quest to win a first top-flight title in 19 years has been boosted by the arrival of Robbie Keane to partner Fernando Torres. Nevertheless, the Reds will need to shed their reputation for inconsistency if they are to land a first championship since 1990.

The outsiders
Can anyone break into the top four? This has become arguably the biggest question - and problem - facing the all-conquering Premier League, and few see it being answered this season. Everton did, of course, manage to break into this group in 2006, but, as the Toffees have failed to sign a single player over the summer, many believe the most likely threat to the established order will come from the ambitious duo of Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa.

Biggest movers
'Credit crunch? What credit crunch?' That certainly seems to have been the message from England's football clubs as the rest of the country prepares for recession. Liverpool's £20.3 million purchase of Keane set the standard, while Chelsea parted with £8 million for Deco and over double that for Bosingwa. Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, backed manager Juande Ramos by shelling out a combined £35.5 million to bring the attacking talents of Luka Modric, David Bentley and Giovani dos Santos to White Hart Lane. Other eye-catching deals include Manchester City's £18 million acquisition of Jo, Peter Crouch's £11 million switch to Portsmouth, Andrew Johnson's £12 million move to Fulham and the £10 million arrival of Johan Elmander at Bolton Wanderers.

Players to watch
Cristiano Ronaldo has once again made himself the centre of attention thanks both to his magnificent displays last season and to his undisguised attempts to swap Manchester for Madrid during the summer. Should he fail to live up to his own high standards, expect Wayne Rooney to emerge from his Portuguese colleague's shadow, with Sir Alex Ferguson hinting at a more central role for a player whom, he admits, "sacrificed himself for the team" last season. Elsewhere, Chelsea will be desperately hoping that inspirational captain John Terry has recovered mentally from his penalty nightmare in Moscow, while Liverpool's hopes are likely to rest on whether Keane and Steven Gerrard can take some of the goalscoring burden from Fernando Torres' shoulders'.

Manchester United-Newcastle United is one of the ten games featured in the opening round of FIFA's World League's Predictor. If you haven't yet signed up for free, then what are you waiting for? Simply click on the link to the right to join up and compete for some great prizes.

Have your say
Who will win the battle of the managerial titans: Ferguson, Scolari, Wenger or Benitez?