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United will scrap forfourth

Here we go. Here we go. Here we go.
There's nothing like the start of a new football season to bring out the inner pundit in all of us. Everything is analysed and scrutinised. Managerial changes, different teamsheets and new singings are inspected. Individual player potential, tactical possibilities and the pre-season friendlies are all subjected to rigorous assessment.

On a brink of another voyage, it's sometimes instructive to tap up a professional for indicators of how things might pan out. This season we have even more critical variables to compute.

The League will be without the influence of last season's most prolific scorer, Luis Suarez who's quit Liverpool for Barcelona. Manchester United have successful Holland manager Louis van Gaal in charge. Mauricio Pochettino is the latest through the managerial revolving door at Tottenham. Jose Mourinho, into his second term at Chelsea, has brought Didier Drogba back to the club. Reigning champions Manchester City have added Frank Lampard to their impressive squad.

"It's going to be different to last year," says Premier League legend David Ginola, now a pundit with BT Sport. "Every single season is different. Not just because you have different managers or players. It's a different game. English football is a very long season. When you are beginning pre-season at the beginning of July and ending up in May without any breaks and you've been working very hard, it's even more difficult."

The start of the season is exciting. Everyone starts with a clean sheet but, as Ginola points out, expectations can be tested from the first kick-off.

"Before the first game everything is great," he says. "But if you start the season and lose, then teams start to ask themselves questions. Football is 90pc in the mind. Confidence is important. If you start the season well you have a better chance. You have a smile on your face when training. You listen better. You understand better. Everything is better."

Ginola remains to be convinced that Man United can put themselves back in contention in their first season under Louis van Gaal.

"Friendly games pre-season are about creating confidence and momentum," he says, acknowledging Manchester United's impressive performances in the States. "If you're losing games at the beginning of the season you might have to change things.

FOCUSED

"Friendly games are about trying different options and seeing what you have to work with. Van Gaal has been trying things. I hope for Man United he's going to bring back a good attitude and players being focused.

"Man United fans are expecting a lot," adds Ginola. "They want to think last year was an accident. It's a huge club. They can't afford to stay mid-table. Moneywise, they can't, because you're talking about stock markets, shareholders. It's all about that theses days. It's not only the pitch, the green rectangle. If Louis van Gaal doesn't bring a Champions League place or any titles … Man United can't afford another season of transition."

"They have to show a new attitude, a new dynamic, new everything," states the Frenchman. "If you look at the players they bought, it's not so many. They got rid of many but we don't see many great signings. They expect the players in place to do the job."

Former England keeper David James, another BT Sport pundit, doesn't expect Manchester United to bounce back so easily.

"They'll battle for fourth," he declares. "I think Van Gaal has improved the side tactically. But when you've got Liverpool and Man City always pushing forward and Chelsea with Mourinho starting a season with a season behind him and, don't forget, last season he was shuffling his pack, Man United have dropped behind and now have to play catch-up with a group of teams who are also pushing."

Liverpool's heroic tilt for the title last season owed much to the ability of Suarez. How will Brendan Rodgers cope without him?

"I thought that Suarez would sign a new contract and stay with Liverpool but he didn't," says Ginola. "That's probably the case with most of the players. Players are looking at their interest. Good club, good money, fair enough. But better offer, better club, thank you very much, bye bye. That's the problem of football these days. Liverpool bought some great players. Obviously they won't have the Players' Player of the Year but they can create a different dynamic for the club. Knowing the don't have Luis Suarez up front, they probably will play differently.

"Brendan Rodgers knows exactly where the weaknesses are. He can change a few things towards the beginning of the season. The best teams in the world are probably the teams who are defending well. What I liked about Liverpool last season was when they scored a goal they didn't hold the ball and wait. They wanted to score a second and a third one. You could see the team was going forward all the time. That's the best way to defend."

James spent seven years at Anfield. He points to the pressure that's on manager Rodgers. "It's Liverpool," he says. "A side that's never won the Premier League. To have this almost disproportionate representation around the world for a side that hasn't won the League in what, 24 years, there's got to be pressure year upon year. To be fair to Brendan Rodgers, he's kept a decent poker face about things. That's a credit to him."

SURPRISED

Admitting he was surprised to see Liverpool reach second place last season, James reckons they're improving.

"Now the team has to be more team-orientated and more defensive. I see a trajectory upwards and as last year was second, there's only one place to go. That's first.

"It could be back-to-back titles for Manchester City because they look very strong," says Ginola. "You need to be strong and not concede too many silly points. Manchester City were very strong, especially in midfield. But I think it will be open like last season."

James is happy to predict the eventual top three. "Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City," he says. "And fourth place to be contested by Arsenal and Manchester United."


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