The Premiership strikes back

It has only been away for a couple of months but it feels like a lifetime to a football fan: the Premiership is back and Saturday afternoons will once again become a time of contrasting emotions, swinging from euphoria to despair within the space of 90 minutes.

The traditional curtain-raiser between league champions and FA Cup winners - the Community Shield - takes place on Sunday, as Manchester United take on Arsenal.

The following weekend the league program starts but amidst all the pre-season hype the question remains: Is there any team that can break the dominance of Manchester United and Arsenal?

English fans often mock the Scottish league for its perennial two-horse race but has the English league been any better recently?

The chasing pack does get closer than in Scotland, but it has been no great surprise that Man Utd and Arsenal have shared the league in recent seasons.

So, is there any hope for this season?

Probably not. Manchester United have looked awesome on their tour of the USA and their squad looks as strong as ever, despite the sale of David Beckham.

If Van Nistelrooy and Scholes stay fit then it would be no surprise if the title headed back to Old Trafford.

Arsenal have managed to retain the majority of their squad and should push Manchester United all the way, especially if Thierry Henry hits form.

Any challenge to the big two is likely to come from Newcastle, Chelsea or Liverpool.

Newcastle's young team can only get better and an improvement in defence would certainly help their cause.

Up front the Shearer-Bellamy partnership is vital, and Bellamy needs to stay out of the nightclubs and focus on his football in order for it to work.

Chelsea have been boosted by the backing of a Russian billionaire but all the signings they have made will surely take time to gel and a championship challenge looks unlikely until next season.

During the 1980's, Liverpool were known as the "Red Machine" due to their dominance of the English game.

But the machine has been broken down for some time and still doesn't look to be fixed, despite the arrival of Harry Kewell. They simply won't score enough goals to challenge.

It may be boring to say but the top five is unlikely to change from last year.

However, real intrigue lies in the premiership mid-table as clubs look to establish themselves and avoid the relegation dog-fight.

Formerly successful clubs such as Everton and Tottenham battle to restore damaged "big-club" reputations, and smaller clubs like Blackburn and Southampton seek to build upon good seasons.

Leeds will be looking to bounce back from their nightmare year with a top 10 place, and Aston Villa, Manchester City and Middlesbrough will all expect improvements.

The relegation battle will doubtless be closer than last year with Fulham, Birmingham and Bolton again being involved and Charlton will more than likely be dragged in.

As usual, the three promoted clubs - Portsmouth, Leicester and Wolves - will probably struggle, although Wolves might just be the season's surprise package.

Regardless of past form, every football fan starts the season with renewed optimism that this might be THE year.

But the title race could well be over by Christmas as the red half of Manchester celebrates once more. The bottom half of the table could well be more interesting and harder to predict but the most vaunted for the drop remain Leicester, Charlton and Fulham.

Just remember, whether your team wins or loses, enjoy the season! You know you'll miss it when it hass gone.