SBI's English Premier League Preview

SBI's English Premier League Preview

European Soccer

SBI's English Premier League Preview

City (Getty Images)

After the manner in which the 2011-12 English Premier League season ended, it's hard to think that this season will be able to top Manchester City and Manchester United's race for the title that literally came down to the final minute.

With a number of high-profile names changing addresses, a European club champion looking to reinvent itself and a number of important lingering questions, though, there are still plenty of unknowns heading into what should be a riveting campaign, one that will kick off Saturday.

Can any non-Manchester club crack the top of the table? That is the one burning question above all others as another season in England gets underway.

Here is a closer look ahead to the 2012-13 Premier League season:

THE FAVORITES

Manchester City, Manchester United

It's no surprise that the two Manchester rivals are the class of the league heading into the new season. They both ran away from the competition last season, outlasting third-place Arsenal by 19 points and absolutely abusing the goal differential column. City finished with a +64, beating out United's +56 to capture the championship via the tiebreaker after Sergio Aguero's last-minute heroics against Queens Park Rangers.

United's quest to outscore City led the club to signing Robin Van Persie from Arsenal this week, pairing together the top two scorers from last season — RVP and Wayne Rooney — as part of a revamped United attack that also includes former Borussia Dortmund sparkplug Shinji Kagawa. 

In the end, though, the difference might just come down to defense. Led by Belgian centerback Vincent Kompany, City's stingy defense was the best in England. United, meanwhile, has to worry about the fitness and health of injury prone centerback tandem Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, which can be among the best partnerships in the world.

THE CONTENDERS

Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Newcastle, Liverpool

The tier behind Manchesters City and United is comprised of teams that are all facing major hurdles. For UEFA Champions League winner Chelsea, which finished sixth in the Premier League last season, this season is about integrating a new generation of young talent after Roman Abramovich spent big on the likes of attackers Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin. 

Tottenham face the ongoing Luka Modric saga and is still lacking a consistent punch up top to make the club a serious challenger for the league's throne all while integrating the new style of first-year coach Andre Villas-Boas, who is looking for a second lease on life in England after failing at Chelsea.

Arsenal have to deal with the loss of Van Persie and potential loss of Alex Song, and a lot of pressure will be placed on new signings Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud to make Arsene Wenger's club a winner.

Newcastle were the surprise of last season, finishing just out of the Champions League mix following the midseason acquisition of dynamic forward Papiss Cisse. The Magpies won't be taking anyone by surprise this season, though.

Liverpool, meanwhile, are reportedly on the verge of making a couple of more signings ahead of the season — Turkish playmaker Nuri Sahin is rumored to be headed to either Anfield of the Emirates — and will have to adjust to the new style of manager Brendan Rodgers, who brings with him new exuberance to the traditional power. 

TOP TRANSFERS

Robin Van Persie from Arsenal to Manchester United

Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United

Eden Hazard from Lille to Chelsea

Oscar from Internacional to Chelsea

Santi Cazorla from Malaga to Arsenal

Lukas Podolski from Cologne to Arsenal

Jan Vertonghen from Ajax to Tottenham

Steven Pienaar from Tottenham to Everton

Hugo Rodallega from Wigan Athletic to Fulham

Fabio Borini from Roma to Liverpool

Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea to West Brom

BIGGEST QUESTIONS

Where will Clint Dempsey wind up? 

Fulham manager Martin Jol's comments that have made the rounds Friday make it a certainty that Dempsey, who scored a career-high 23 goals in all competitions last season, won't be featuring for Fulham this season. Liverpool has seemed like the most likely destination for Dempsey during this offseason, with Rodgers publicly saying that the club inquired about his services. With the summer transfer window two weeks from closing, a move for Dempsey needs to materialize soon, or else the U.S. star will be in club purgatory ahead of an imporant year of World Cup qualifying.

Will Luka Modric finally depart Tottenham?

The saga involving Modric has carried out all preseason, and it has hampered Tottenham from finally moving on while preventing the club from filling his potential void because of the financial implications at stake. If Modric makes his big-money move to Real Madrid, then Tottenham will have the funds to spread around to make improvements. If not, then the club will be hamstrung with a wantaway playmaker.

Will the Van Persie-Rooney partnership work?

With Manchester United splashing the big cash to lure Van Persie from Arsenal, all eyes will be on his pairing with Rooney. If the duo struggles to get going in the early portion of the season, the scrutiny will only get more intense. Fortunately for Sir Alex Ferguson, he has the luxury of having Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez to turn to in the event that his potentially iconic front line needs a spark.

Which promoted teams will stay up?

After Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City and Swansea City all managed to avoid the drop last season, the bar has been raised for Reading, Southampton and West Ham to remain in the Premier League as opposed to returning to the League Championship after a one-year stay.

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Which team do you think will win the Premier League? Do you see any team breaking the two Manchester clubs' run at the top? Which promoted team do you think has the best shot of making a home in the top flight? What are you looking forward to the most this Premier League season?

Share your thoughts below.

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