At the end of last season, even Arsene Wenger surely felt that a top-four finish wouldn't be too difficult in the coming season if things stayed about the same. Only Aston Villa even made a worthy charge into the top, and fell short for the same reason that Liverpool couldn't win the league: no bench.
However, this season we are looking at a completely different EPL, one that has decided that perhaps if it worked for other teams then it might work for us. Case in point: Present Manchester City becoming the Mourinho led Chelsea of old. If there is a problem, then money can fix it...and not just a little money, we're talking big money (Real Madrid money perhaps ;).
Now, I'm not a Manchester City fan. In fact, I'm hoping that they fall flat on their face after spending such a ridiculous amount of money and planning on spending even more before the end of the transfer window. I did begin my EPL loving with being a citizen because of Claudio Reyna, but after he left I soon shifted my allegiance away from Manchester, so I feel that I have a good "outside looking in" perspective here.
Despite most everyone thinking that the top four have all but locked their positions for this season and several seasons to come, it's time that we acknowledge the fact that City has put together a very impressive team. And not only have they put together an impressive first team, but they have quite a solid bench as well which is something that Aston Villa didn't have and yet still broke into the top four for a small time.
The big question here is, am I saying that City will make it into the Champions League? I don't know. We still haven't truly seen what the Citizens are capable of since most pre-season matches have only seen portions of their new talent on display and I've never seen a team be accurately judged from their pre-season form and have it remain accurate throughout the season.
The thing to finally put down though is that it is more than possible for Mark Hughes' side to do more than just shake things up in the EPL this year. They could challenge for anything, especially after seeing an impressive foray into UEFA cup last season without all of this new talent.
Just take a look at a side that has the talent to finally make a true run at the top. With Robinho, Adebayor, and Tevez up front and having Santa Cruz on the bench gives them an extremely strong attacking presence from across the field. Let's not forget that Tevez saved several Man U outings single- handily late last season by himself and the fact that he is a box to box striker and will work hard to prove to Sir Alex that it was unwise to let him go.
In the midfield we see Gareth Barry arriving to help an already experienced midfield unit. With Shaun Wright-Phillips still having more pace than most in the game and Ireland providing experience to a midfield so that they can hold possession which will really help out with the biggest weakness Man City had last year: the defense.
However, this year we see some big faces in the defensive unit with Toure probably being employed as a centre-back and the big rumours going around that Hughes' next signing will be another big defender (possibly Everton's Lescott) giving Citizen fans hope that they won't allow so many goals that their GD last season was pathetic (+8) and had them giving up losses to Wigan and Middlesborough in crucial games. We also see a very experienced and talented man in between the sticks with Shay Given, perhaps not a Cech or Van Der Saar, but still a very talented shot-stopper.
The big question is if Mark Hughes has what it takes to keep so many big names happy and maintain their top form. We've seen in nearly every sport a team splash for the big names only to see them under perform and clash with other teammates because of the coach's lack of ability to make the big boys happy.
Will Man City break the top? Will they even have a decent season? No one knows, but one thing is for sure, all of the needed elements are in place or will soon be in place. Whether Mark Hughes makes them all work together remains to be seen. Vote for what you think will happen in the poll.