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Fanzone preview: The English Premier League

  • Story Highlights
  • Carlo Ancelotti will be under pressure to deliver in his first season at Chelsea
  • The departure of winger Cristiano Ronaldo has left a void at Manchester United
  • Manchester City have spent heavily in a bid to challenge the league's top four
  • Have your say on who you think will win the title in the Sound Off below
By Timothy Abraham
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The new English Premier League season kicks off with the first round of fixtures this weekend - Fanzone details what to expect from the new campaign:

Fanzone preview: The English Premier League

So what's new?
Chelsea's appointment of former AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti was one of the few managerial changes in the off season after he replaced interim boss Guus Hiddink who returned to his role with Russia.

Steve Bruce left Wigan to take over at Sunderland and has been replaced by Spaniard Roberto Martinez who has impressed during his time with Swansea City.

On the playing front, the Premier League lost two of their star players as Real Madrid signed Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United for a world record $132 million and Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso for fee in the region of $50m. Who will win the English Premier League title? Sound Off below.

The remainder of the off-season was dominated by the spending of Manchester City, who splashed out a combined total of $68m on Arsenal duo Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor as well as $20m on Aston Vila's Gareth Barry.

City also clinched the signing of MSI-owned Carlos Tevez -- poached from local arch-rivals Manchester United -- and Roque Santa Cruz increased the attacking options after he joined from Blackburn.

Fact Box

Reigning Champions: Manchester United

Champions League Qualifiers: Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal

Europa League Qualifiers: Everton, Aston Villa, Fulham

United replaced Ronaldo with Luis Antonio Valencia from Wigan while Michael Owen was a surprise arrival at the club on a free transfer after he left Newcastle.

Liverpool brought in full-back Glenn Johnson from Portsmouth for $31m and Roma midfielder Alberto Aquilani moved to Anfield as a replacement for Alonso.

Chelsea signed Yuri Zhirkov for a reported fee of $30m from CSKA Moscow while Arsene Wenger strengthened Arsenal's defensive options with the signing of Thomas Vermaelen for $17m from Ajax.

Off the field, finances have dominated the build up to the new season with many clubs forced to curb their spending and manage debt which has prompted some changes of ownership.

Ellis Short has assumed full control of Sunderland and Sulaiman Al-Fahim has taken over from Alexandre Gaydamak at Portsmouth while Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has left West Ham, who are currently in the hands of asset management group CB Holding.

Michael Owen was a surprise arrival at Manchester United and could turn out to be an astute signing.

Michael Owen was a surprise arrival at Manchester United and could turn out to be an astute signing.

Key players:
The departure of Ronaldo has left a huge void at Old Trafford and Red Devils manager Alex Ferguson will expect a big season from Dimitar Berbatov after an inauspicious start at the club.

Ferguson's decision to sign Owen raised a few eyebrows but the striker will have a point to prove after a disappointing period with Newcastle. And with places in England's World Cup squad up for grabs Owen could be set to answer the critics who have deemed him a spent force.

Chelsea defender John Terry resisted the lure of Manchester City's millions to remain at Stamford Bridge and he will again be integral to the Londoners' hopes of mounting a serious challenge.

Liverpool's chances of finishing one better than last season's runners-up spot will rest with the Steven Gerrard-Fernando Torres axis. The pair only started 12 times together in the league last season and manager Rafael Benitez will hope they stay injury free this time round.

Mark Hughes will hope that new signing Carlos Tevez can help Manchester City get off to a good start.

Mark Hughes will hope that new signing Carlos Tevez can help Manchester City get off to a good start.

Key clubs:
All eyes will be on Manchester City after they bolstered their squad with several proven Premier League players and manager Mark Hughes will be under pressure to deliver results from the first game.

It promises to be an intriguing campaign at the Emirates Stadium following the departure of some high-profile players. While all the attention will be on who replaces them the stage is set for British youngsters Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs to lead Arsenal's challenge.

Manchester United are aiming to retain their title for a record fourth successive season but how they cope following the departure of Ronaldo will be key to their fortunes, and the margins between the defending champions and Liverpool and Chelsea could be even slimmer.

Birmingham, Wolves and Burnley have all been tipped for the drop but Stoke and Hull City both survived last season following promotion. All five clubs, and a Portsmouth side who have lost a number of key players, are set to be among the strugglers this time round.

John Terry's decision to stay at Chelsea will be key to Carlo Ancelotti's chances of winning rhe title.

John Terry's decision to stay at Chelsea will be key to Carlo Ancelotti's chances of winning rhe title.

Expert view:
CNN's Alex Thomas - "The consensus is that this will be the season when a new team breaks the stranglehold of England's so-called 'Big Four' clubs? Don't bet on it.

"Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have finished ahead of the rest for the last six years and there is no compelling evidence that it will be any different this season.

"I don't think United will successfully defend their title, although Ferguson will make sure his players battle hard to hold on to it.

"When I interviewed Ferguson a week and a half before the season started he spoke openly about how much United will miss Ronaldo.

"The world player of the year's transfer to Real Madrid has left a gaping hole in Ferguson's team, but he will use that as a tool to motivate the rest of the squad.

"However, a record four English Premier League triumphs in a row may be beyond them and Chelsea under new boss Ancelotti are my pick to reclaim the trophy they last won in 2006.

"The London club is packed with experience and, crucially, the spine of the team that performed so well under Jose Mourinho - Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech et al - should be back to its best after a couple of turbulent seasons.

"Liverpool and Arsenal will be good enough to stay in the top four but not much else. This season is the 20th anniversary of Liverpool's last championship title but I believe they'll continue to wait for their next one, especially if Gerrard or Torres get injured.

"Arsenal also lack strength in depth following the departure of Toure and Adebayor - although Wenger's talented young side will, again, be great fun to watch.

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"Manchester City lead the challenge to England's 'Big Four' and the club's $260m investment in new players demands respect.

"They will improve on last season's 10th place but, realistically, their new-look squad will need time to gel. City's captain Richard Dunne told me the players will have to be patient - and the same goes for their expectant fans."

All About Barclays Premier LeagueThe F.A. Premier LeagueLiverpool FCChelsea FCManchester UnitedManchester United FCArsenal FCManchester City FCMichael OwenCarlos TevezCarlo AncelottiCristiano Ronaldo

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