Big Four under challenge

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

This could be the year there's room at the top of the English Premier League standings for a new face.

The Big Four may have to move over.

That warning comes from the lips of no less an expert than Sir Alex Ferguson, the man seeking his fourth Premier League title in succession with Manchester United.

"I think ourselves, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are looking at what's happening at Manchester City with great interest and whether it can work in terms of the money they've spent," Ferguson said. "... there's a lot of interest in their situation, particularly as none of us have really gone into the market in a big way.

"We've sold players. In fact, Liverpool sold (Xabi) Alonso, we've sold (Cristiano) Ronaldo, Arsenal sold (Emmanuel) Adebayor ... the 'Big Four' have actually been really quiet. So we're all interested in how it's going to pan out at (Manchester) City."

And maybe Everton and Aston Villa and Tottenham.

The annual also-rans are wetting their lips at the thought of defending champion United without Ronaldo. They are excited the triumvirate of Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have done little to strengthen themselves. In fact, some suggest Arsenal may be worse off than it was at the end of last season.

The question is whether teams nipping at their heels have improved themselves enough to mount a challenge.

No team can escape the loss of a player of Ronaldo's calbre without feeling the pinch. That loss has levelled the playing field. United still has Wayne Rooney. They will look for much more from Dimitar Berbatov and hope newcomer Michael Owen returns to form.

Liverpool has scoring with Fernando Torres and Steven Garrard. They must survive the sale of Alonso. Alberto Aquilani's acquistion from Italy was much heralded but Aquilani has as many questions surrounding him as he does answers.

Arsenal looks in danger of dropping from the Top Four. The Gunners sold Adebayor and Kolo Toure without making significant additions to their club. They are now under threat from Barcelona as the Spanish giant threatens to poach Cesc Fabregas.

Chelsea looks the best. Carlo Ancelotti has come from AC Milan to take over as coach. Chelsea's success may be determined by how well his team adjusts to his formations.

The Blues have a commitment from John Terry to remain at Stamford Bridge and a strike force of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. They are the threat to United's crown.

In fact, the top four face significant threats from an Everton squad that performs well despite a tight budget, an Aston Villa team that made big noise last year and a Tottenham team that might struggle at the back but have added gangly Peter Crouch to Jermain Defoe and Luka Modric up front.

Which brings us to Manchester City, the elephant in the room.

All the other teams have noticed City, wonder about City and are waiting to see what City does.

The big spender has added Carlos Teves, Adebayor, Toure, Roque Santa Cruz and Gareth Barry from Aston Villa. Add Robinho to the mix and City will not have a problem scoring goals.

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This season promises to be a welcomed reprieve from the usual four-team race.

Arsenal

Last season: 4th

This season: 5th

Addition: Thomas Vermaelen

Key losses: Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure

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Aston Villa

Last season: 6th

This season: 8th

Additions: Stewart Downing

Key losses: Gareth Barry, Martin Laursen

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Birmingham City

Last season: promoted from Championship

This season: relegation zone

Additions: Joe Hart, Christian Benitez

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Blackburn Rovers

Last season: 15th

This season: 10-15th

Additions: Franco Di Santo, Gael Givet, Nikola Kalinic

Key loss: Roque Santa Cruz

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Bolton Wanderers

Last season: 13th

This season: 10-15

Additions: Zat Knight, Sam Ricketts, Sean Davis, Paul Robinson

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Burnley

Last season: promoted from Championship

This season: relegation zone

Additions: Steven Fletcher, Richard Eckersley, David Edgar

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Chelsea

Last year: 3rd

This year: 1st

Additions: Yuri Zhirkov, Daniel Sturridge

Key loss: Ben Sahar

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Everton

Last season: 5th

This season: 6th

Additions: Jo

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Fulham

Last season: 7th

This season: 9th

Additions: Stephen Kelly, Bjorn Helge Riise

Key loss: Collins John

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Hull City

Last season: 17th

This season: relegation zone

Additions: Steven Mouyokolo, Seyi Olofinjana, Jozy Altidore

Key loss: Sam Ricketts

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Liverpool

Last season: 2nd

This season: 3rd

Additions: Glen Johnston, Alberto Aquilani

Key loss: Xabi Alonso, Jermain Pennant, Alvaro Arbeloa

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Manchester United

Last season: 1st

This season: 2nd

Additions: Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia

Key loss: Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez

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Portsmouth

Last season: 14th

This season: relegation zone

Addition: Aaron Mokoena

Key losses: Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch

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Stoke City

Last season: 12th

This season: 10-15th

Addition: Dean Whitehead

Key loss: Seyi Olofinjana

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Sunderland

Last season: 16th

This year: 10-15th

Additions: Darren Bent, Fraizer Campbell

Key loss: Dean Whitehead

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Tottenham

Last season: 8th

This season: 7th

Addition: Peter Crouch

Key loss: Didier Zokora

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West Ham United

Last season: 9th

This season: 10th

Addition: Luis Jimenez

Key loss: Diego Tristan

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Wigan Athletic

Last season: 11th

This season: 10-15th

Additions: Jason Scotland, Scott Sinclair

Key loss: Antonio Valencia

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Wolverhampton Wanderers

Last season: promoted from Championship

This season: relegation zone

Additions: Kevin Doyle, Andrew Surman, Nenad Milijas

Key loss: Darren Potter


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