Manchester United face competition to repeat as champions

With the 2011-12 English Premier League season set to begin Saturday, Manchester United will face a stern test in its bid to repeat as English Premier League champions.

United have experienced somewhat of a squad overhaul during the summer. Edwin van der Sar and Paul Scholes have retired, while Wes Brown and John O'Shea have moved on to Sunderland Athletic.

The aging stars have been replaced with youth, as David De Gea, Phil Jones, and Ashley Young all made the switch to Old Trafford in June.

Throughout the club's preseason tour of the United States, Manchester United looked untouchable, beating New England Revolution, Seattle Sounders FC, Chicago Fire, MLS All-Stars, and Barcelona by a combined score of 20-3.

But it will face stiff competition from other clubs to hoist the Premier League trophy in May.

Local rivals Manchester City has continued its free-spending ways, bringing in Stefan Savic, Gael Clichy, and Sergio Aguero.

Despite the commotion from United's "noisy neighbors", Manchester City was unable to claim a psychological edge to start the season, losing to United 3-2 in the FA Community Shield.

Liverpool has made several key additions in an effort to claim its 19th title and keep pace with Manchester United.

The Anfield club has signed versatile midfielders in Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, and Jordan Henderson, while solidifying the back line with the additions of defender Jose Enrique and goalkeeper Doni.

Chelsea is a club with proven pedigree that can contend for the title despite not making many notable transactions in the offseason. The club's biggest signing came in the managerial position, prying Andre Villas-Boas away from Portuguese club FC Porto.

This is the second time seven years that a promising young manager has left Porto for Chelsea, as Villas-Boas follows the example set by Jose Mourinho in 2004.

Despite not winning a trophy in six years, Arsenal is another club with title aspirations.

The London outfit has brought in youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a 17-year- old who has been compared to current Arsenal starlet Theo Walcott. The club also signed Ivory Coast striker Gervinho from Lille.

While it has secured the two crucial signings, Arsenal's losses could outweigh its gains. Clichy's move away from the Emirates has left a bit of a hole in the Gunner's back line with no discernable replacement in sight.

The club's offseason has also been plagued with rumors of Cesc Fabregas returning to Barcelona and Samir Nasri heading to Manchester to sign with City or United. While nothing has happened yet, there is still time before the transfer window closes at the end of August, and either move would take a lot of the wind out of Arsenal's sails.

Tottenham Hotspur have the capabilities to make a title push, but it will need a fully-fit Gareth Bale to have any hope of doing so. Qualifying for a spot in Europe is a much more realistic goal, as they will compete with Everton, Aston Villa, and even Sunderland for that crucial fifth place finish.

As the 2010-11 season proved, the relegation battle can often be a more enthralling race than the title chase. Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic, and Wolverhampton Wanderers all narrowly avoided the drop on the last day of the season.

The new season promises more of the same at the bottom of the table, as newly promoted sides Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers, and Swansea City will be eager to avoid a poor start to the new campaign.