Chelsea and Arsenal look the most likely to topple Man City

Alam Khan 14/08/2014
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Prized scalp: Having won the title twice in three seasons, Manchester City start 2014/2015 as the team to beat.

It would seem inconceivable for this season’s Premier League to match the exhilarating highs and debilitating lows of the previous campaign.

Such was the entertainment served up, it was one of the best ever, and why other top leagues lack the same intensity and crazy, un­predictable outcomes.

Dethroning Manchester City as champions will be one objective and there are few surprises about their potential rivals

Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United all have ambi­tions, but realistically the first two pose the biggest threat to Manuel Pellegrini’s men.

Jose Mourinho didn’t come back to Stamford Bridge, and English football, to be a failure. While fin­ishing empty-handed in the first year of his return might have been deemed a transitional period, nei­ther he, nor owner Roman Abram­ovich, will accept another without a major prize.

And Mourinho can have no ex­cuses either. By splashing the cash on Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis, and bringing back old warhorse Didier Drogba he has cre­ated his own special squad and will expect a special effort.

City have similar strength in depth, but having won the league twice in three seasons, their de­sire and focus may well turn to the Champions League.

Arsenal have flair and firepower, but need to answer questions about their defensive fragility after con­ceding 17 goals in three meetings with rivals City, Chelsea and Liver­pool last season.

It promises to be another battle of epic proportions for the coveted top four spots and Louis van Gaal will want to make an instant impact at Manchester United. With a fresh approach, fresh talent and no Euro­pean football, they will look to mus­cle their way back into contention.

Tottenham should be in the frame too with Mauricio Pochet­tino hoping to provide some steel, style and stability to the White Hart Lane outfit after his arrival from Southampton.

Liverpool look most vulnerable.

One man may not make a team, but the impact Luis Suarez had was both irrefutable and unforgettable.

Boss Brendan Rodgers has gone for squad strengthening to replace the brilliance of the Uruguayan.

But while that transfer policy might improve defence, with the solid Dejan Lovren, and midfield, with the creativity of Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic, there could be problems up front if Daniel Stur­ridge and Rickie Lambert struggle to gel as a partnership, and Steven Gerrard is unable to remain the driving force he was.

Despite Everton’s record pur­chase of Romelu Lukaku and the energy of Roberto Martinez’s side, they will be among those watching from afar. So too Newcastle and a Southampton outfit shorn of sev­eral stars.

Down at the bottom, all three promoted sides face a massive fight for survival. Burnley look brittle and favourites to make an imme­diate return, while Leicester will need new striker Leonardo Ulloa to prove he is no gamble.

With experience, particularly a new centre-back pairing of Rio Fer­dinand and Steven Caulker, QPR should avoid an unwanted hat-trick.

But Rangers fans will not be alone in facing a long, hard season.

Having surprisingly appointed Alan Irvine to replace Pepe Mel and signed a £10m (Dh61m) striker, Brown Ideye, that the manager ad­mits to not having seen live, West Brom could face a similar ordeal to the last one.

So too Crystal Palace, who will need Tony Pulis to work more of the motivational magic that somehow kept them up.

Aston Villa and Swansea will be reliant on frontmen like Christian Benteke and Wilfried Bony for goals to keep them afloat, but Stoke, West Ham, Hull and Sunderland should be in better shape. 

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Bale ready to excel and fulfil his potential at Madrid

Phil Blanche 14/08/2014
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Happy homecoming: Gareth Bale in action during Real Madrid’s 2-0 European Super Cup win over Sevilla at the Cardiff City Stadium.

Gareth Bale admits he is feeling a lot better about life at Real Madrid as he enters his second season in Spain.

Bale returned to his native Car­diff on Tuesday night as star-stud­ded Real started the new campaign as they finished the last one – with a trophy. 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s double secured a 2-0 Super Cup victory for the Champions League winners over La Liga rivals Sevilla as the Wales international again exhib­ited his trademark pace and power.

Bale set up Ronaldo’s first goal with a sublime cross and the world’s most expensive player, following his £86million (Dh527m) move from Tottenham a year ago, expects Real to be a major force again this season.

“When I came to Madrid I wanted to settle down off the pitch as soon as possible because I knew if I could concentrate on my foot­ball I knew what I was capable of,” Bale said after Real’s triumph at the Cardiff City Stadium.

“I know everybody in the squad now. I feel comfortable and the second season you’re obviously feeling a lot better.

“You miss some things about home, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it in Madrid and looking forward to the season.

“In sport anything can happen but hopefully we’ll be strong again.

“We feel confident and will be trying our hardest to win every trophy.”

Summer signings James Rod­riguez and Toni Kroos both made their debuts in Wales and Bale believes the extra quality will serve Real well as they seek to become the first club to make a successful defence of the Champions League.

“It’s always good to have options,” Bale said. “It keeps com­petition more fierce and hopefully performances can go up.

“The new lads have settled in very well. Toni Kroos speaks Eng­lish, so he’s with me!

“It’s great to have him and James here and they both did very well.

“We’re in a strong position and it’s exciting. We know how good we can be and how good we are but we need to keep working hard on the training pitch and the pitch, so hopefully we can keep performanc­es up.

"We go into every competition looking to win it and we’ll be trying our best.”

Bale’s performance in Cardiff also drew strong praise from matchwin­ner Ronaldo, who admits he enjoys playing alongside him.

“Bale was fantastic, he played amazing,” Ronaldo said.

“He looks strong, he looks fast and is a very important player for us. He had a fantastic season last year so it doesn’t surprise me the way he plays.

“He showed his quality week by week and it’s great to have Gareth with us and be part of the success of Real Madrid.

“I’m very glad to play with him too because he understands me and I understand him. He does fantastic passes and I love it.” 

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Kompany sets sights on more success after penning new five-year deal

Andy Hampson 14/08/2014
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Captain and leader: Vincent Kompany (l) is the figurehead of the new Manchester City.

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany has become the latest member of the Premier League-winning squad to commit his future to the club with a new long-term deal.

A day after David Silva penned a new deal, and following on from Samir Nasri and Aleksandar Kolarov, the 28-year-old Kompany signed a five-year contract.

Should he see it through to its conclusion, Kompany will have been with the club for 11 years.

“When I arrived in 2008, I could never have dreamed that we could achieve what we have over the last six years but, for me, this is just the start of the journey,” Kompany said on the club’s website.

“This team is stronger now than it’s ever been; we have competition for places in every position and a dressing room full of exceptional, motivated people who want to con­tinue making history together.

“Lifting two Premier League ti­tles, the FA Cup and the League Cup have been four of the best days of my life but I believe that there are many more of these occasions ahead.

“There are so many new land­marks and records to chase and I hope signing this new contract is taken as a statement of intent that I want to keep fighting for trophies for this special club.

“Why would I go anywhere else?”

The Belgium international joined City from Hamburg as a 22-year-old in 2008, ahead of the club’s takeover by Sheikh Mansour, being utilised in defensive midfield by then manager Mark Hughes.

After an impressive first season, Kompany started the 2009/10 sea­son in the centre of defence, form­ing one of England’s tightest defen­sive partnerships alongside Joleon Lescott.

His success at Etihad Stadium was soon reewarded with a new five-year contract in October 2009, just 14 months after he had signed for the club.

The end of that season marked a historic occasion in City history, with Kompany starting in the FA Cup final win against Stoke City that ended a 35 year wait for silver­ware.

Kompany took over club captain­cy from striker Carlos Tevez ahead of a 2011/12 season, and helped the club to the Premier League title in his first full season wearing the armband – his memorable headed goal in the 1-0 win over rivals Man­chester United proving one of the pivotal moments of a dramatic run-in.

After Manuel Pellegrini guided City into the last-16 of the Cham­pions League for the first time last year only to be defeated by Barce­lona, Kompany has set his sights on helping the team go even further in this year’s competition.

He said: “The Champions League is about measuring yourself – not only against the best in your coun­try but against some of the best in the world. It’s a different challenge.

“We felt last year there was not too much difference between us and the top sides. We all know there are three or four sides who are a little bit above the rest. But that’s the work we are doing here on the training ground, trying to bridge the gap and then trying to become stronger.”

Kompany has made more than 240 appearances for City in all competitions. 

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