Roy Keane, the former Manchester United skipper and Old Trafford folk hero, has tipped Chelsea to prevent United from securing back-to-back Premier League titles.
On the eve of the new season the Sunderland manager has revealed his 'gut feeling' that Chelsea will prove to be too strong this term, not least because of the addition of new coach Luis Felipe Scolari, but also because United are lacking a striker.
United fans may wish to dismiss Keane's prophecy, but be warned: he got it right last year. Keane said: 'For me, it's Chelsea this year. I always felt that United would do it last year but I fancy Chelsea this time.'
Explaining his theory Keane added: 'There's no African Cup of Nations in January, they've got a new manager, they've bought one or two players and, for all the ups and downs, last year they still nearly nicked it.'
Last season Chelsea's title push was undermined by the departure of key squad players to the month-long African competition, including Michael Essien and Didier Drogba, while uncertainty over the future of then coach Avram Grant did not help.
'If United get a top striker in then they've got a chance. But my gut feeling this year would still be Chelsea,' says Keane who won seven Premier League titles with United between 1994 and 2003.
Manchester United do start the new season a little light in the striker department with Wayne Rooney only just ready to return after contracting a virus he picked up on a pre-season tour in Nigeria, Louis Saha still injured and last season's 42-goal hero Cristiano Ronaldo recovering from ankle surgery; leaving Carlos Tevez and youngster Frazier Campbell as the club's only fit forwards.
Over the summer United have been labouring to prise Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham Hotspur and a deal finally looked to be nearing this week after both side's appeared to have compromised over the 27-year-old Bulgarian's transfer fee.
However, reports of renewed interest from Barcelona could yet scupper United's approach, with Spurs boss Juande Ramos thought to be unwilling to sell Berbatov to a Premier League rival.