Pay as you play in Premier League

Manchester City have coughed up �49m for Raheem Sterling
Manchester City have coughed up �49m for Raheem Sterling
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After being valued at £5.136billion, Premier League football lovers will be hoping the English top flight finally lives up to its billing as the best in the world this season.

When Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore took to the stage at a press conference in February and revealed the “value” of the latest rights deal, those in attendance were genuinely stunned by the figure he revealed.

In the run-up to the announcement it was predicted the deal could be worth two, three or maybe four billion, but £5.136billion was certainly an astonishing 
figure.

Those who watched last year’s competition would be forgiven for wondering what the fuss was all about.

The 2014-15 season was one to forget, really.

Yes, Eden Hazard was a joy to watch, the emergence of Harry Kane was one of the best good news stories of the last few years, and we took great fun in researching whether ostriches do really bury their heads in the sand.

But, overall it was not a vintage year for the Premier League.

Chelsea effectively had the title wrapped up in February, the top four positions were tied up with two games to go.

The only area of interest in the top half of the table was working out who would go into the Europa League – the very ugly sister of the Champions League.

In Europe’s top club competition, an English team failed to make the last four, and only one relegation place had to be decided on the final day…you get the picture.

So, what will be different this year?

Who is best equipped to stop Chelsea from coasting to the title?

The answer at the moment seems to be: nobody.

Raheem Sterling may now be the most expensive British player in history, but he will not provide the difference for Manchester City.

Their money would have been better spent on two centre-halves and a midfielder to replace James Milner.

The England midfielder is a sound acquisition for Liverpool, as is that of Nathaniel Clyne, but even with the addition of £32m Christian Benteke from Aston Villa, it is hard to see how Brendan Rodgers’ team will challenge for the title.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to Jose Mourinho’s hegemony will come from his former master Louis van Gaal.

Manchester United have done the best business of all the big clubs this summer.

Matteo Darmian has arrived from Torino, Memphis Depay is one of the most exciting talents in Europe, Morgan Schneiderlin boosts the ranks in midfield and in Bastian Schweinsteiger they have bought a born winner.

“It’s a new step in my life. I want to win titles,” said the eight-time Bundesliga winner.

“Manchester United is used to that and I am too, so that’s my goal.’’

Chelsea have had a relatively quiet summer, but they were so far ahead of everyone else 
last season that little suggests they will fall short again this term.

Signing Asmir Begovic is a real coup, given that he could have been first-choice at a number of clubs.

The only area of concern for the Blues is up front.

Radamel Falcao had a poor season for United last term, and he will have to toughen up if he is to lead the line if Diego Costa is out.

Traditional outside bets for a top-four finish like Everton and Tottenham have spent wisely, but they will struggle to qualify for the Champions League unless Arsenal implode – and that is unlikely given the capture of Petr Cech from Chelsea.

Stoke and Crystal Palace have bought well and will fancy their chances of qualifying for Europe.

Slaven Bilic, Steve McClaren and Claudio Ranieri have the foundations to lead West Ham, Newcastle and Leicester to safety. Norwich have retained many of the players they had during their last foray into the Premier League, but have added little else, meaning they are among the favourites for the drop.

Watford go into that bracket too after their baffling decision to change manager following promotion.

Eddie Howe will face a real test in keeping Bournemouth up, but his commitment to attacking football will at least make his Cherries team a joy to watch.

Sunderland may also be in danger if they keep wasting money as they did with the £4million capture of Younes Kaboul.

Whoever finishes at the summit, in the top four or in the bottom three, let us hope for more goals, entertainment and controversy this season.

That is the least a £5billion competition should offer.