Previews: City's Big Four bid begins at Blackburn

LONDON - Manchester City begin their most eagerly awaited campaign for decades at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday looking to steal a march on city rivals United that they hope will last all season. Manchester United kick off their bid for an unprecedented fourth successive championship at home to Birmingham City on Sunday by which time the fans will have had their first look at Mark Hughes's new, megabucks Manchester City side.

Nobody, not even billionaire backer Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, will expect the squad to settle immediately into a smooth-running outfit ready to challenge the Big Four of United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.

However, he will want to see signs of a return on an estimated 100 million pounds close-season shopping spree.

Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor provide a contrasting strike force, the former a diminutive player with the heart of a lion and the latter a classy finisher with a moody streak.

Forward Roque Santa Cruz, midfielder Gareth Barry and centre back Kolo Toure also come with hefty price tags and much expectation.

Hughes, who endured four years counting the pennies as Blackburn boss before moving to City 14 months ago, spent much of last season dampening expectations after the high-profile signing of Robinho.

The Brazilian and his team mates eventually meandered through to an all too familiar mid-table finish.


This season has to be different and Hughes, a former Manchester United and Wales centre forward, will revel in his striking options.

Tevez, captured from United despite being hugely popular with the Old Trafford fans, had a first run out in a friendly win over Celtic last weekend.

"I wanted to see him on the pitch with Robi and Ade but you can't play everybody," Hughes said after the Argentine's 25-minute appearance off the bench.

"Craig (Bellamy) came off at that point as well but it illustrates the point we've got great options and great variation in the type of players we have in the forward areas.

"I've got a good idea of what I'm looking to do (against Blackburn)," added Hughes.

The Premier League programme kicks off with a lunchtime game at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea take on Hull City.

Chelsea have not won the title since 2006 but there is a renewed optimism around the club following the arrival of manager Carlo Ancelotti from AC Milan.

"We have changed the way the team plays a bit," Ancelotti said after the Londoners beat United on penalties to win the Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday.

"I am very happy ... I now know the players, I like their mental attitude and I like the organisation of the club.

"We are ready to start a very important season for us and we are ready to do our best," added Ancelotti.

Arsenal visit Everton on Saturday while Liverpool travel to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Burnley also begin their first season in the top flight for 33 years, at Stoke City on Saturday.