Premier League Manager Changes Make for Close Soccer Title Race

Alex Ferguson’s retirement, Jose Mourinho’s return and Manuel Pellegrini’s arrival make English soccer’s Premier League title race one of the tightest to predict in years.

Defending champion Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea are the overwhelming favorites in the championship chase, which begins tomorrow, even though each has a new manager.

Several bookmakers on, including William Hill Plc, rate Chelsea and City as 9-4 joint-favorites just ahead of United, meaning a successful $4 bet returns $9 plus the stake. Others have all three teams level at 9-4.

“It’s one of those ones where you actually don’t know what’s going to happen,” William Hill spokesman Joe Crilly said. “Anything can happen when you change the manager. It doesn’t matter how good the team is, if you don’t get them playing the right way they can fall out of contention.”

Arsenal is a distant fourth choice at odds of 10-1, ahead of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

Manchester United won its record-extending 20th league title in 2012-13 by 11 points over City in Ferguson’s final season. The 71-year-old retired after 26 years at the club where he won 38 trophies, including 13 league championships and two European Cups.

The club replaced Ferguson with fellow Scot David Moyes, who spent the past 11 seasons at Everton. Though Moyes, 50, didn’t win any trophies with the Toffees, he regularly sealed top-eight finishes with fewer resources available to him.

‘Different Ballgame’

“Now it’s a different ballgame,” former United striker Dwight Yorke, who works as a Premier League commentator for Sky Sports, said in an interview. “He’s replacing arguably the best manager that ever lived in world football. So that’s going to be something to watch with interest, to see how he copes with all that.”

City, owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, changed managers and opened its wallet in an attempt to reclaim the title it relinquished last season. Pellegrini, who’s coached in his native Chile, Argentina and Spain, replaced Roberto Mancini and the team spent more than 90 million pounds ($140 million) in bringing in midfielder Fernandinho, winger Jesus Navas and strikers Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic.

Chelsea signed players including forward Andre Schuerrle, who cost a reported 18 million pounds, although its most significant acquisition so far has been in the dugout, where Mourinho returns for a second stint. He replaces interim manager Rafael Benitez, who led the Blues to the Europa League title last season though struggled to win over the fans.

Mourinho Factor

Mourinho, 50, described himself as a “special one” when he arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2004 and became a favorite with supporters by capturing two league titles, one F.A. Cup and two League Cups in three seasons.

“He knows the Premier League very well and will bring the Mourinho factor,” Yorke said. “Everyone will be buzzing around him at Chelsea, he can attract the best players because of what he has done as a manager. They haven’t been in contention the past couple of seasons and he will want to put that right.”

Chelsea hosts Hull in the opening round of games, with United visiting Swansea and City at home to Newcastle.

The fight to avoid relegation may be as tight as the title race, according to Crilly. Cardiff, Hull and Crystal Palace are favored to go back down after winning promotion from the second-tier Championship last season, with Norwich and Stoke also in danger.

Stars’ Futures

“Nobody knows what they are going to do,” Crilly said of the newcomers in a telephone interview. “You can argue it’s going to be as close at the bottom this year as at the top because there are plenty of teams who go could down.”

The futures of three of the league’s biggest stars remain unsettled heading to the opening weekend.

Tottenham winger Gareth Bale, voted player of the year last season by both his peers and the media, has been linked with a possible 100 million-euro ($133 million) world-record transfer to Real Madrid, while Liverpool has rejected two offers from Arsenal for striker Luis Suarez. Chelsea has twice been turned down in bidding for Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney. So far, United hasn’t made any major signings in the trade period, which ends Sept. 2.

Goal-Line Technology

The Premier League will also debut goal-line technology this season to help officials. The goal decision system, as the league calls it, uses 14 cameras and sends a signal within a second to the referee’s watch and earpiece when the ball has crossed the line.

It was used at last weekend’s Community Shield match and will be in operation at all 20 stadiums.

“The only fundamental reason people play football is to get the ball into the net and score a goal,” Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore said at a demonstration of the system at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Aug. 8. “This technology is designed for one purpose, to say if the ball went over the line or not. It’s a very discrete technology for a very specific thing. This is 100 percent accurate.”

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