Drogba, Ronaldo & co, back on the pitch
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The Premier League is resuming after the summer break. While Manchester United intend to hold on to their title with an almost unchanged starting eleven, old rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have other plans.
Chelsea midfielder Deco believes Luiz Felipe Scolari's ruthless streak will help wrestle the Premier League title from Manchester United.
Deco and Scolari will get their first taste of English football on Sunday when the Blues host Portsmouth on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season.
After five years playing for Scolari's Portugal team, Deco knows the new Chelsea manager inside out and the diminutive playmaker already sees signs that his hardline training regime is beginning to pay dividends.
On his arrival at the club's Cobham training ground in July, Scolari greeted the Chelsea players with two a day sessions that concentrated more on physical fitness than tactics or skills.
The multi-millionaire stars of Stamford Bridge may not have enjoyed it, but Scolari's CV demands respect and Deco is confident the Brazilian will get results.
"He is an affectionate guy, but he takes his work very seriously and in training he is definitely a bit harder with us," Deco said.
"He just wants the players to be dedicated, though. He doesn't want people playing around during the time we are meant to be working hard.
"I think we have everything necessary to win the Premier League again and also the Champions League."
While Chelsea are buoyant after Frank Lampard's decision to sign a new five-year contract, Manchester United start their title defence in a state of flux.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has spent much of the week trying to lure Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham to pep up his attack in time for Sunday's clash against Newcastle.
With Cristiano Ronaldo and Louis Saha injured and Wayne Rooney recovering from a virus, United are short of attacking options and Ferguson knows they can't afford a slow start.
Dirk Kuyt has warned Sunderland to expect a backlash after Liverpool's disappointing Champions League display in midweek.
The Reds were lucky to escape with a draw at Standard Liege, but Dutch striker Kuyt believes that will serve as a wake-up call for Rafa Benitez's side.
"We have some big games coming up. One of those is on Saturday at Sunderland. So we must not play like this again," Kuyt said.
"We have the quality in our team, we just need to step-up now and look forward to Sunderland. We will not play as badly as that again, we must improve and we will improve."
Gael Clichy insists Arsenal can end their three-year trophy drought despite the departures of Alexander Hleb, Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto Silva.
Arsene Wenger's side, who host West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, will have to do without injured midfielders Cesc Fabregas, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky for the opening weeks, but Clichy still expects Arsenal to make a major impact this season.
"We will show everyone and if we progress we have the chance to win the title," Clichy said.
"Of course Manchester United and Chelsea are strong sides -- as are Liverpool and Tottenham, building new teams -- but I am really confident with the quality we have got."
Of the three newly-promoted sides, Hull have most to look forward to on opening day as they host Fulham in the club's first ever top-flight fixture in their 104-year history.
Phil Brown's side clinched promotion via the play-offs and, although the Tigers are already firm favourites for relegation, the atmosphere at the sold-out KC Stadium will be one of unfettered joy at a dream come true.
Stoke are back among English football's elite for the first time since 1985 and Tony Pulis's men travel to Bolton for a potentially bone-jarring encounter between two physical teams.
Pulis believes Stoke's unglamourous image has cost him the chance to sign several players.
"A lot of players enjoy being around bigger clubs and everything that goes with it. They don't fancy a battle at a club like Stoke," Pulis said.
"The tremendous spirit in our dressing room was a major factor in getting us promoted and there is no way we want to compromise that."
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