Premier League managers continue to recruit new players and offload those surplus to requirements ahead of the new season as several hope to mould squads capable of finishing in the top four in 2012-13.
Following on from last season it is widely expected champions Manchester City and local rivals Manchester United will again dominate the battle for the title, but what of those below them? Will it be the usual suspects of Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool in the frame for the top four or, like Newcastle last term, will there be a surprise package?
Assuming both Manchester clubs will take up two of the top four places, the race for the remaining two spots looks very competive with plenty of clubs hoping to stake realistic claims.
After a shocking start last season, the Gunners rallied and then, thanks somewhat to the goals of Robin van Persie, they managed to secure third place.
It was some achievement considering they were in the bottom half of the table early on and testament to boss Arsene Wenger’s determination to stick to his plan and ability to get results even when he was facing heavy criticism.
He looks like losing van Persie this summer, though, and fans will again be wondering if a top-quality replacement is not found then a title challenge looks as far away as it’s ever been over the past five years.
Wenger’s men are 4/9 to again make the top four, however, and there is an argument that is too short given the goings-on elsewhere, but it reflects the fact Arsenal remain very much experienced Champions League qualifiers.
Like Liverpool in 2005, Chelsea’s failure to make the top four last season mattered little in the end as they pulled off a big shock by going on to win the Champions League overall.
Their victories over Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the latter stages of the European Cup proved they can match – and beat – the very best in one-off games but there remain plenty of question marks over the Blues’ ability to mix it with the Manchester duo over the course of the campaign.
Roberto Di Matteo was rewarded with a permanent contract after he guided them to glory and the club have landed the highly-rated Eden Hazard, with several others set to follow him to Stamford Bridge.
Their hero in Munich, Didier Drogba, has gone so there is plenty of expectation on Fernando Torres’ shoulders to lead Chelsea back into the top four.
At 1/4 they are odds-on to make it and, provided they strengthen further, it should be achievable.
It’s been a summer of change so far at White Hart Lane, with Harry Redknapp being ushered out and former Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas replacing him.
The Portuguese’s appointment has been met with a mixed reaction from the club’s fans, some of whom believe his failure at Chelsea proves he cannot handle big players in a bigger league and is too inexperienced to threaten Sir Alex Ferguson, Roberto Mancini and Wenger.
However, plenty of others are willing to put his Chelsea spell to one side as a blip and say he is quite rightly regarded as one of the best young coaches around.
Time will tell while finding a replacement for Luka Modric, should he depart, will also be difficult. Expect Spurs to challenge again for the top four (7/4) but fifth might be best they can hope for.
Liverpool are next in the betting at 5/2 and it would be seen as an achievement if Brendan Rodgers does guide the Reds back into the top four after three seasons out of the big time.
It is do-able but only if the new coach’s methods at Anfield work quickly and at least three top quality signings arrive.
Newcastle (16/1) would have to go some way to repeating last season’s impressive campaign and it would be a major surprise if Alan Pardew gets the Magpies as close in 2012-13.
Everton (18/1) have exceeded expectations in recent years under David Moyes but a top-four return for the Toffees looks unlikely while, of the other outsiders, Sunderland (50/1), under Martin O’Neill or Aston Villa (80/1), under Paul Lambert, would be the two sides most likely to cause a huge shock and somehow muscle in on the top-four party.