Another Premier League season begins tomorrow, and those looking for variety might want to look elsewhere. With few significant changes since May, the table figures to shakeout in a manner similar to last season. Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal will battle for the title and a pack of teams a notch below will fight for a coveted Champions League spot.
A League and FA Cup double got Carlo Ancelotti's tenure at Stamford Bridge off to a memorable start last season, and his veteran Chelsea squad fully expects to maintain the title this year. The core of this team feels like they've played together forever- Lampard, Terry, Drogba, Cech- all back in blue for another go at the European crown that has alluded them. With the transfer deal for Brazilian midfielder Ramires now complete, Chelsea add an exciting young playmaker to their roster of seasoned pros.
Speaking of seasoned, Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United have been unusually quiet since the end of the last campaign, unlike the carnival surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo's transfer a year prior. The addition of Mexican Javier Hernandez is the only change of note. Wayne Rooney had the look of a beaten man in the World Cup. If and when he returns to form will dictate whether or not the Red Devils reclaim the title.
Arsenal hung around the fringes of the title chase much of last season and if not for a few letdown matches could have nabbed the top slot. The fact that Cesc Fabregas hasn't landed at Nou Camp with Barcelona yet is surprising, but for now the World Cup winner remains the focal point of Arsene Wenger's side. Another World Cup finalist, Robin van Persie, will also be key in the Gunners bid for their first title since the "Invincibles" team of 2004.
Beyond the those three, Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool and, to a lesser extent, Aston Villa and Everton, will set their sights on a top four finish. Manchester City were big offseason spenders for a second-straight season, this year looking to strengthen a shaky defensive unit. The additions of Aleksandar Kolarov and Jerome Boateng should help in that regard. David Silva and Yaya Toure have also been added as City aim for a Champions League berth.
Tottenham broke into fourth last year, and savvy manger Harry Redknapp is eyeing some additions to keep his side there again. Assuming they can move past Swiss side Young Boys (and what a terrible name that is for a team) in the last round of Champions League qualifying, Spurs will face the tricky balance of league aspirations on the weekend and matches against Europe's elite midweek. With that schedule, top scoring threat Jermain Defoe will need help.
Joe Cole and Roy Hodgson bring a fresh excitement to Liverpool, but a lack of depth has burned the Reds in recent seasons. When Steven Gerrard and/or Fernando Torres get hurt, which tends to happen a lot, Liverpool have few reliable options.
The surprising resignation of Martin O'Neill less than a week before kick off has put a dent in Aston Villa's already long shot hopes of reaching the top four. O'Neill's left because of a lack of transfer funds, which should tell you all you need to know on how much Villa spent improving the squad. Similarly, Everton have the ability to win against any opponent, but lack the depth to make a full-season push.
I'll predict a Chelsea repeat for 2011, followed by Arsenal, ManU, Man City and Liverpool.