Premier League prospects hinge on transfer sagas

Posted by Ian Darke

Breaking news: So far, Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez, subjects of a thousand media stories this summer, are moving … nowhere.

Coming up: all the other developments NOT happening in the English Premier League.

It will be a relief to escape the transfer-story tedium and get back to watching the games this weekend as the juggernaut splutters back into life.

I am surprised Manchester United, winners of five of the past seven titles, are only third favourites this time behind Chelsea and Manchester City. After all, they still have Robin van Persie -- top scorer in the Premier League for the past two seasons.

Perhaps the lack of enthusiasm for United's chances reflects a feeling that the club might be in a transitional phase as new manager David Moyes comes to grips with the daunting job of following Sir Alex Ferguson. Even before a ball is kicked in anger, some of United's less-forgiving fans are saying Moyes does not have Fergie's pulling power in the transfer market.

It has been a little perplexing to see a club of United's size and obvious pulling power fail to net any of its major targets so far. Moyes was hell-bent on securing Cesc Fabregas to add goals and flair as an attacking midfield man, but the Spaniard is saying he does not want to go. Could that yet change if United upped their offer to a figure which Barcelona would find good business for a player who has not exactly been an automatic selection?

Something tells me that deal might not be stone dead. Certainly, the pressure grows on Moyes to make a splash in the market somewhere soon. One thing is for certain: Unless there is a marquee signing, there is surely no way Moyes can allow a player as good as Rooney to go to title rivals Chelsea and perhaps hit 25 goals to help Jose Mourinho regain the crown.

Manchester City -- a 1-3 friendly defeat to Arsenal notwithstanding -- seem in a far happier frame of mind.

I was around the City camp in Munich recently, and insiders spoke of a much better vibe since Roberto Mancini and his Italian entourage have left. It is not exactly a state secret that Mancini was not Mr. Popular with either the staff or a few of the City players. That might explain last season's limp title defence.

This summer, while their rivals have dithered, City have done $135 million worth of business early. Their defence has been the best in the league for the past three seasons, and, with the added goal power of Alvaro Negredo, the craft of Stevan Jovetic and the wing wizardry of Jesus Navas, City will take some stopping now that they are also happy campers under the guidance of the dignified Manuel Pellegrini.

The surprise so far is how quiet the new serene Mourinho has been on his return to Chelsea. Give it time, give it time.

Chelsea are many people's idea of champions because Mourinho will add extra steel to a side already bursting at the seams with creativity. German international Andre Schürrle has been added to a heady cocktail, which already includes Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata.

But can Chelsea keep David Luiz out of the clutches of Barca, and who gets the goals if prime target Rooney does not arrive? Does anyone really believe the answer is Fernando Torres? Thought not.

Arsenal have been linked with everyone and signed no one, though reports suggest holding midfield man Luis Gustavo -- a regular for Brazil -- is on his way from Bayern Munich. The Gunners might get closer if the vastly improved Laurent Koscielny continues to shine in defence and Jack Wilshere has a season free of injury. But in attack, Olivier Giroud, while useful, is probably not world class, and there is a need to capture a top striker.

Liverpool's stance in refusing to sell the wayward Luis Suarez to Arsenal is spot on. It makes no sense to hand your No. 1 asset to rivals for a top-four place. Brendan Rodgers hopes and believes Suarez, sent to train alone as a "bad apple," will come round and give 100 percent once the deadline passes and he realises there is no move.

The errant striker is a little genius. With him, Liverpool could get back into Champions League contention. Without him, it will be tough, even though Daniel Sturridge, Phillippe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard have the capacity to dazzle.

Likewise, Spurs' season rather hinges on what happens with Bale, who has his heart set on moving to Madrid. He carried the team last season.

Tottenham have done well signing Brazil's best midfield man Paulinho and prolific Spanish marksman Roberto Soldado. The sale of Clint Dempsey to Seattle Sounders, while a feather in the cap of Major League Soccer, came as a shock. But, without Bale, Spurs have a look of frustrated fifth-placers again.

Predictions? Let's wait until we know who ends up where come deadline day, but, at this stage, my tentative title tip would be Manchester City. I think Swansea might do well again, Southampton could surprise and new boys Cardiff City can stay up.

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