In English soccer, it's all about Manchester, EPL
LONDON (AP) -- The message from Manchester to London is clear. Enjoy the Olympics because the sporting spotlight will soon turn right back to soccer.
As the London Games draw to a close, England's soccer elite are tuning up for a new Premier League season on Aug. 18. It already looks set to end like the last one, a Manchester derby between City and United.
The London clubs led by Champions League winner Chelsea and Arsenal clearly have resources to draw upon, but the real momentum looks to be 200 miles north.
City had to wait until the fourth minute of injury time on the final day of last season to win its first league title since 1968. However, more than a billion dollars poured into the club by its Abu Dhabi-based owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan had already marked it as the team to beat since the previous August.
Only United was able to keep up with the frenetic pace, thanks mainly to the sheer personal drive of 70-year-old manager Alex Ferguson rather than any inspirational soccer by his players.
Goal difference eventually separated the blue and red sides of Manchester after both clubs finished on 89 points, with Arsenal trailing a distant third at 70.
And that's the scale of the problem facing any club based outside Manchester's ring road this season. Nineteen points is not a gap, it's a gulf.
And City clearly intends to keep it that way.
Manager Roberto Mancini signed a new five-year contract at a reported cost of $57 million. The club also remains in the market for new signings to strengthen the squad before the transfer window closes Aug. 31.
Also, domestic rather than European success still seems to be the main yardstick for Mancini.
"Chelsea took maybe 10 years to win the Champions League, because it is not easy to win this competition,'' Mancini said during a preseason tour. "We would like to win it this season, of course, but our main target is the Premier League and a domestic trophy.''
Anxious to keep up with the "noisy neighbors,'' as Ferguson once termed his crosstown rivals, United fans may hope some of the funds raised by the club's flotation on the New York stock exchange - expected to exceed $300 million - will find their way into transfer fees.
Ferguson has already had some good news with the return of club captain and central defender Nemanja Vidic from long-term injury.
"Maybe we relaxed a bit last season,'' the Serbia international conceded this week. "We were punished and we can't allow that to happen again.''
Despite finishing sixth last time around, FA Cup winner Chelsea still looks like the team most likely to test Manchester's grip on the title.
Victory over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final fulfilled a dream held by club owner Roman Abramovich since buying the Blues in 2003. It may ease some of the pressure on coach Roberto Di Matteo.
The departure to China of the club's aging striker Didier Drogba is bound to be a loss.
However, the arrival of the most exciting player in French soccer, playmaker Eden Hazard, should be a real cause for celebration. There is certainly more to come from the likes of Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge.
Meanwhile, Arsenal is wondering if there is more to come from Robin van Persie.
Having refused to sign a new contract, the team captain looks to be heading for the exit after a spellbinding season in which the Netherlands striker scored 37 goals to move his team into the forthcoming Champions League.
His likely departure raises an inevitable question: Where will the goals come from now?
Surprisingly, the usually cost-conscious club has already supplied an answer by signing three new forwards: Germany's Lukas Podolski, France's Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla of Spain.
Tottenham finished a creditable fourth last season and was denied a Champions League slot by Chelsea's penalty shootout victory over Bayern. Along with the talent of winger Gareth Bale, the spotlight will be trained on Spurs' new coach Andre Villas-Boas, who was fired in March by Chelsea.
Liverpool will look to build on a League Cup victory, a new coach in Brendan Rodgers and a hope that English soccer fans will forgive its talented striker Luis Suarez for racially abusing United's Patrice Evra last season.
Judging by the boos he received while playing for Uruguay during the Olympics, they won't.
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