Luiz Felipe Scolari believes Chelsea will face potential Premier League champions when the Brazilian takes charge of his first match against Portsmouth on Sunday. While most pundits expect the Blues to contest the title race with perennial contenders Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, the former Portugal coach insists at least three other teams could make their presence felt.
Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp may be surprised to hear his FA Cup winners mentioned in the same bracket as the 'big four', but Scolari is convinced Pompey, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City can mount surprise bids for the English crown. "I saw many games in pre-season and if you say only one or two teams can win it, I think you are wrong," Scolari said.
". There are three or four other clubs who have good teams, like Tottenham and Portsmouth, who are strong teams. I saw Manchester City (in the UEFA Cup) and just because they lost doesn't mean they are not a good team.
"All the games here are important and difficult games, unlike in other leagues where you have two or three teams only and you win 15 out of 20 games. Here you can never be sure you will win a game and that is exciting. Every week you have a new challenge. One week you will be playing a team like Portsmouth, who have a lot of tall players, the next a team where everyone is fast. England is different."
After Avram Grant's tedious reign last season, Scolari has been a breath of fresh air for players and fans alike in west London, but he knows the honeymoon will not last long if Chelsea fail to make a good start. At least Felipão will have plenty of familiar faces to rely on when he looks around the changing room before kick-off on Sunday. He can call on Portugal internationals Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and Deco, the close-season signing from Barcelona, who all served Scolari well with their national team.
But it is another France striker Nicolas Anelka who could hold the key to ensuring a promising start to the Scolari era. Anelka scored just once in 15 matches for Chelsea last season but with Didier Drogba injured, he will lead the attack against Portsmouth.
"Anelka has looked good in training and will play as centre-forward. He played well in the friendly games but he is quiet," Scolari said. "If you say 'good morning' to him he will say 'good morning' back but if you don't he won't say anything because he is quiet.
"We need to put fire in Anelka - tell him 'look Anelka, you are very good'. Maybe this will be the season for Anelka. I need to work more on his head, on his thinking in the field, because he has good quality."
As ever, Redknapp was busy wheeling and dealing right up until the last minute this week. He signed Charlton Athletic winger Jerome Thomas on a season-long loan deal to provide service for giant striker Peter Crouch, then decided to accept a bid from Rangers for Portuguese midfielder Pedro Mendes.
Redknapp needs to raise funds to launch a move for Chelsea's Shaun Wright-Phillips, and has been frustrated by several of his players' refusal to leave Fratton Park. "I had some opportunities to sell players but they wouldn't go," he said.
"They're probably in the comfort zone here and are quite happy not to be in the team but to do their little bit and plod along really. For Pedro, it is a move he fancied when it was put to him and we had to do it financially so we move on."