Chelsea go easy on spending as rivals splurge
CHELSEA begin their Premier League title defence against Swansea City tomorrow, in the unusual position of heading into a new season having been significantly outspent by their rivals.
Jose Mourinho's side had paid lavish sums to bolster key areas by this time last year but, having claimed the title at a canter, the motto of this transfer window seems to be: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The club's marquee signing of the close season has been a loan deal for Colombia forward Radamel Falcao, who, like £7 million (S$15 million) goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, is likely to feature only as a back-up in the coming campaign.
Their summer contrasts markedly with previous years when owner Roman Abramovich spent freely, building a squad that is estimated to be worth around £400 million, according to the statistics website Transfermarkt.co.uk.
Their habitual rivals have not been shy about bringing out the chequebook.
Manchester City, who finished second and start their season at West Bromwich Albion on Monday, broke the bank to bring Raheem Sterling to the club from Liverpool in a deal worth up to £49 million.
Manchester United, who host Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow, have spent in the region of £70 million on four players, while Liverpool, whose campaign begins at Stoke City on Sunday, have forked out nearly £80 million, principally on Christian Benteke from Aston Villa and Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim.
Arsenal, who beat Chelsea in the curtain-raising Community Shield last weekend and host West Ham United on Sunday, are the only potential title challengers who have not spent heavily so far.
Yet, they have stolen a psychological march on Mourinho's side by signing the Blues' goalkeeper Petr Cech, who played second fiddle at Stamford Bridge last season, to fill a long-time problem position.
Not that Chelsea are feeling the pressure. If anything, Mourinho's show of confidence in his squad has merely added to their sense of self-belief, if you listen to captain John Terry.
"The players are mentally and physically ready but it's going to be tough, other teams have strengthened, we have seen the players they have brought in and spent a lot of money," the Chelsea captain told Sky Sports.
"Other teams needed to strengthen, we were that much better than other teams last year that maybe we've forced their hands a little bit. The manager feels we have a good enough and big enough squad to deal with it and we'll give it a good fight."
After returning to the Premier League's top four, United have once again recruited extensively, but there are concerns about the balance of their squad ahead of the new season.
Manager Louis van Gaal has bolstered his midfield with the additions of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, to take his spending since succeeding David Moyes last year to around £230 million.
With Robin van Persie and Falcao having left and Javier Hernandez out of favour, it leaves Wayne Rooney shouldering a heavy burden up front, but former captain Bryan Robson believes the midfield reinforcements can provide the platform for a first sustained title assault since Alex Ferguson's departure in 2013.
"The manager has built the midfield area to a point where we look strong enough to dictate the tempo of games," said Robson, now a club ambassador. "Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin look really good signings. They are going to be the powerhouse of United's midfield and that should hold us in good stead over the season."
United fans raised on the all-action displays of players like Robson and Roy Keane have long lamented the lack of oomph in the team's midfield, but if anything, the club now have too many midfielders on their hands.
Optimism once again abounds at Arsenal, following last weekend's 1-0 win against champions Chelsea in the Community Shield.
The Gunners know they must make a faster start than last year to avoid being cast adrift of the leaders and Per Mertesacker, their German defender, has warned his teammates against getting carried away.
"We have had a great pre-season so far, and the peak was winning the Community Shield, but any significant predictions from the game are very difficult," Mertesacker said.
Without question, Arsenal have improved since the dog days of last December, when a loss at Stoke City prompted furious fans to verbally abuse Wenger as he boarded a train home, yet they still have to turn tantalising potential into tangible rewards.
It should help Arsenal's cause that they finally seem to have solved their problems in matches against their fellow title contenders.
Tormented by a miserable run of 15 games without a win against English teams who had qualified for the Champions League the previous season, Arsenal's belief has soared since a victory at City in January.
Meanwhile, City are brimming with optimism with coach Manuel Pellegrini "absolutely sure" of winning the Premier League title back this season.
City, who conceded four goals in both their defeats by Real Madrid and Stuttgart in pre-season friendlies, finished eight points behind champions Chelsea in the Premier League last season.
"I am absolutely sure that we are going to have a very successful season. We must bring back the title here to our fans," the 61-year-old was quoted as saying by Sky Sports. "We are sure, as I have just said, that we are going to bring it back. We had a good pre-season."
With the sale of Stefan Jovetic to Inter Milan and Edin Dzeko being strongly linked with a move to Roma, City are poised to start the season with only two front-line strikers in Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony. But Pellegrini does not seem to be worried.
"We have Kelechi (Iheanacho), that is a young player who I think must find a place here in our squad," the Chilean manager said. "Sterling can also play in front. I think we are going to bring in other players, but not in that position." City won the Premier League title in a close finish in 2013-14.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS