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Aug 9, 2013

EPL teams under new management

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Aug. 19 College Football Preview. Subscribe today!

Great expectations

AFTER AN OFFSEASON with little player movement, the faces on the Premier League pitches should be strikingly familiar when the season starts Aug. 17. But that doesn't mean change isn't afoot. Just look toward the sidelines for those screaming men in expensive suits.

Chelsea

May 15: An unpopular Rafa Benitez, who was on a seven-month contract as the interim manager, takes the squad to the UEFA Europa League championship.
May 19: As the Blues clinch third place in the Prem and Benitez directs from the sideline one last time, owner Roman Abramovich executes his ninth managerial change since 2007.
June 3: Jose Mourinho is appointed manager after weeks of reports that the 50-year-old would leave Real Madrid and return to his former post with Chelsea.
Current status: With the Special One in charge again (and now calling himself the Happy One), expectations are on the rise. Despite an EPL title for Chelsea in 2010, Abramovich's rapid-fire coaching changes have led to unease around the club, and fans hope Mourinho's return will be the answer to their woes.

Is Mourinho stuck in a time warp?
Mourinho must not focus on his 2007 cast (Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry). Even he knows his future rides on young playmakers like Juan Mata and Eden Hazard.

Can he endure?
Six of Chelsea's past seven coaches lasted 10 months or less. Even Mou's storied history won't buy him time -- only a Prem title will do.

The heir to Drogba?
Mourinho molded Didier Drogba into a world-class scorer. Expect the same growth from 20-year-old Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku -- oft compared to Drogba in build and playing style.


Manchester United

April 22: Man United clinches its 20th English title, eventually finishing 11 points ahead (the largest margin since 2004-05).
May 8: Sir Alex Ferguson retires after 27 years, having won 60.2 percent of 1,498 matches. His 38 trophies across domestic and international play are the most in the history of English soccer.
May 9: David Moyes, who managed Everton for 11 full seasons, is named the United successor.
Current status: Moyes' first day on the job was July 1, and with it, he says, the "enormity" of his new position has sunk in. The 50-year-old is replacing the most successful manager in Prem history, a man who won five of the past seven titles. No pressure there, right? The new manager is expected to lead the club to the same heights -- as his predecessor, who handpicked him for the job, watches from the director's box.

Can Moyes take the heat?
At Everton, Moyes was never asked to deliver such lofty results. When the pressure mounts, he'll have to remember Ferguson's vote of confidence.

Will he keep Roo happy?
After Wayne Rooney read Moyes' out-of-context comments about playing time, old resentments resurfaced from their time shared at Everton. Moyes has made a priority of reaching out, a smart move to keep the reactive star at peace with his place on the squad.

Mo' money, Moyes' problems
Moyes' 1.93M-pound annual net spending at Everton is chump change compared with United's 15.3M. But expect him to be just as savvy with the checkbook when it comes to scouting affordable players.


Manchester City

May 13: One year after winning the 2012 Premier League title, Man City's first championship in 44 years, manager Roberto Mancini is fired after a disappointing season.
May 19: Man City loses its final game, finishing 11 points behind United. City had already fallen out in the Champions League group stage and lost the FA Cup final to Wigan.
June 14: After stepping down from Malaga, Manuel Pellegrini, 59, is hired as Man City manager and immediately makes his intentions known. "I think we start a new cycle," he said, "in a new style of club."
Current status: Pellegrini's first task as City manager is clear to him: Undo Mancini's four years with the club. Yes, Mancini delivered the first title in decades with a plodding and methodical style, but the successor is focused on leading a balanced offense.

Can Pellegrini conquer Europe?
Owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed craves Champions League wins. With a strong Euro track record most recently at Malaga (coming minutes from the semis last year), Pellegrini is the man to push the Citizens past the group stage, where they've been knocked out the past two years.

Will City spread its wings?
A retooled attack will unclog the middle, which undid City in the 1-0 upset by Wigan. Look for newly signed Jesus Navas (La Liga-high 60 chances from right third with Sevilla) to lure defenses to the flank.

Is City more goal-oriented?
City's scoring dipped from 2.4 to 1.7 last year in EPL play, but strikers Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla) and Sergio Aguero (16 games missed) are in place to deliver.


Pulling rank

Turns out, 1-0 wins can really add up. This is especially true for Arsenal, sitting pretty in the ESPN Soccer Power Index with the second-highest chance of claiming the Premier League's top spot in 2014. Poor play in the first half of last season shows why the Gunners can't be thought of as favorites going into the year. But a torrid run in the latter half 
(they won all but one of their last 16 EPL matches, and after Feb. 1 they led the league in points) propelled them into the conversation with Manchester City and Chelsea as serious candidates to threaten Manchester United for the EPL title this season -- exactly one decade after their last triumph. -- Albert Larcada

Percentages based on 10,000 simulations of the season using ESPN's Soccer Power Index. Stats complied by ESPN Stats and Info.

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