The Premier League season begins tomorrow, but there will be no Sir Alex Ferguson in sight. Perhaps some journalists, pundits, and fans will be reminded of the late comic, Spike Milligan, who used to end many of his comedy sketches by staring at the camera and asking: “What are we going to do now?”

Winning start | New Manchester United manager David Moyes has already won a trophy, but the real battle is about to begin. (Image | Daily Telegraph)

Winning start | New Manchester United manager David Moyes has already won a trophy, but the real battle is about to begin. (Image | Daily Telegraph)

Fergie may be gone, but the Premier League juggernaut continues, and it appears that the race for the 2013/14 title will be between three clubs: Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.

United are used to approaching the season under intense scrutiny, but this this time the pressure is different, for other clubs will see the Red Devils as a kingdom without a strong leader.

With David Moyes now in charge at Old Trafford, many have looked at his record as Everton manager and surmised that he is not the man to continue the success that flowed so readily under Sir Alex.

Despite this assertion being somewhat unfair, and wanting Moyes to succeed, I still agree with the majority of pundits that expect United to finish third behind the Blues and the Citizens. Except this has less to do with the boss than United’s current personnel.

Although the Red Devils have a number of senior professionals imbued with a winning mentality, there are question marks over almost all of them. Can Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić be relied upon to play on a regular basis? Both, after all, are ageing and have ongoing fitness issues.

Meanwhile, the days when 39-year-old Ryan Giggs could play three times a week passed a few years ago. Similarly Patrice Evra, who had an impressive outing in the Community Shield victory over Wigan, has been on a downward spiral since 2010.

Robin van Persie remains the league’s best centre forward, but asking him to drag United to the title again is a huge ask, especially as one wonders how long he can go on before the injury problems that blighted his earlier career return.

This leaves a core of younger players, such as Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Bar van Persie, Michael Carrick might be the closest United have to an experienced regular in the first team.

It is for this reason, and those mentioned above, that I suspect Moyes’ side could be heavily involved in the title race for much of the season before dropping a few too many points with around five or six games remaining.

Safe bet

Chelsea, therefore, appear to be the safe bet to be champions come May 2014, largely because of the return of Jose Mourinho.

The man that established one of the most formidable teams in the history of British football looks to have made a timely return to England. His Chelsea side from 2006 would romp the current Premier League, but what chance do the latest incarnation have?

First time around, Mourinho built his success on physicality, discipline and ruthlessness. This time, however, Chelsea seem to have a more fluid, cavalier approach. The high energy triumvirate of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien has been swapped for the pass-and-move strategy of Oscar and Juan Mata.

New generation | Chelsea midfielder Ramires celebrates with Romelu Lukaku and Oscar after scoring against Real Madrid. (Image | Inside World Soccer)

New generation | Chelsea midfielder Ramires celebrates with Romelu Lukaku and Oscar after scoring against Real Madrid. (Image | Inside World Soccer)

Yet the focus on the “three amigos” of Oscar, Mata and Eden Hazard overlooks Chelsea’s two main problems.

First is the lack of a reliable centre forward, which remains an issue despite the fact that Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Romelu Lukaku are more than capable of scoring 30 goals between them.

Vulnerability in defence is the second worry, with John Terry past his peak and unable to relied upon as he once was. Thus, much will depend on David Luiz continuing to mature as a defender.

That leaves us with Man City, who despite giving the most lethargic and ineffective Premier League title defence in recent memory, have bolstered their already-imposing squad with some of the best acquisitions of the pre-season transfer window.

Fernandinho is a player made for the English top flight, and a potential central midfield partnership of the Brazilian and Yaya Touré should fill the rest of the division with dread. Stevan Jovetić, meanwhile, will take the creative burden off David Silva, while Álvaro Negredo should be able to ease the goalscoring strain on Sergio Agüero.

In fellow new arrival Jesús Navas, City have one of the world’s best wingers. Not a wide midfielder, a true winger. Navas is something of a throwback in the age of “between-the-lines” players.

The Spaniard simply wants to get the ball, beat the full back, and deliver a dangerous cross into the box. While his propensity to go to ground easily will irk many, he is likely to be a reservoir of assists for his team mates.

Combine these new signings with the addition of Manuel Pellegrini as head coach, who will be a uniting and genial presence in contrast to the choleric and intense disposition of Roberto Mancini, and City have to be favourites to lift the trophy.

We should not forget that the standard of defending in England has dipped alarmingly since 2010. Goals are easier to come by, which means that the division will most likely be decided by firepower. More than any other club, big-spending City have ensured they are the most tooled up.

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