SPI projects Premier League race
The 20th Premier League season kicks off Saturday with a slate of games that includes Clint Dempsey and Fulham hosting Aston Villa (9:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2 & ESPN3.com). Although hope may spring eternal in baseball, only a handful of teams harbor legitimate title dreams in the Premier League. With the assistance of the Soccer Power Index, here's a look at the top of the table and a peek at the teams fighting for survival.
• SPI projects Manchester United as a 40.9 percent favorite to defend its title. If the Red Devils repeat, it would be their fifth title in six seasons, a feat accomplished by only one team in English history. That was also Manchester United, from 1995-96 to 2000-01.
• The only team other than Manchester United to win the title in the past seven years is Chelsea, SPI's second favorite for this season at 28.8 percent. Chelsea's 71 points last season were its fewest since 2002-03. The Blues' primary issue last season was their away form. Although five of Chelsea's seven road defeats were against top-six clubs, the other two were against bottom-four sides Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Chelsea's seven road losses and five road ties were both its most in eight years.
• Rated SPI's third favorite to win this season at 19.2 percent, Manchester City is coming off a third-place finish, its best Premier League result, positioning itself well for a title run. Every Premier League champion has finished third or better the previous season. City opens at home against Swansea City on Monday (2:55 p.m. ET on ESPN2 & ESPN3.com).
• At 5.8 percent, Arsenal is the fourth favorite to win the league, after finishing in that same spot last season. The Gunners have finished third or fourth in six straight Premier League campaigns on the heels of eight straight seasons in the top two. Before the current six-season "slide" began, Arsenal had finished only third or worse in a total of five Premier League seasons.
• As for the battle at the other end of the table, expect at least one but not all of the three newly promoted teams (Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City, Swansea City) to be relegated at the end of the season. The only time every Premier League newcomer survived was 2001-02 (Blackburn, Bolton, Fulham), and the sole time all three were sent back down was 1997-98 (Barnsley, Bolton, Crystal Palace).