LONDON (Reuters) - England's Premier League is undoubtedly one of the most exciting in world football but as it embarks on its 24th season on Aug. 8 is it also becoming one of the most predictable?
Last term only Newcastle United and Everton, both of whom dropped down the table, moved more than four places either way, while two of the three promoted clubs went straight back down.
Clubs outside the top six will aim to avoid relegation which will be more important than ever with a lucrative three-year domestic television deal, worth over five billion pounds ($7.77 billion), starting in 12 months' time.
Overseas TV rights will add half as much again, making the struggle to stay up intense.
While the usual suspects are expected to contest the title, however, none of them have managed to win it for two years in a row since Manchester United completed a hat-trick in 2009 under Alex Ferguson.
Since the Scot retired in 2013, the Old Trafford club have not been in serious contention to add to their record 20 championships, finishing seventh and fourth.
They have spent vast amounts of money in that time, with only mixed success, and during the close season Louis Van Gaal has continued to revamp his squad.
Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich and Southampton's Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin will improve the midfield options and allow the Dutchman to use Wayne Rooney in his best position, further forward.
By the end of the season Rooney should have overtaken Bobby Charlton's records as record scorer for England and United.
He will be more interested in whether United have regained the title from Chelsea, who led the table from the third match of last season and finished eight points clear of the previous season's champions Manchester City.
On the day in May that Jose Mourinho's side made sure they could not be caught, television pundit and former United defender Gary Neville told viewers, "the rest are absolutely miles behind this Chelsea team".
United, City, Arsenal and Liverpool will all believe they have reduced the gap after a transfer window in which the champions have so far been comparatively quiet.
Other than bringing in Asmir Begovic from Stoke to replace Petr Cech as second-choice goalkeeper, Mourinho's only notable signing has been Colombia striker Radamel Falcao, who failed to live up to his reputation at United last season.
He impressed Chelsea's captain John Terry when scoring a hat-trick against the Lond club for Atletico Madrid in the 2012 UEFA Super Cup final and, like United, they have now taken him on loan from Monaco, while hoping for a better return.
City scored 10 goals more than Chelsea last season and hope to outscore them again after paying a fee that could rise to 49 million pounds ($76.16 million) for England's Raheem Sterling.
Their total of 83 goals was 31 more than Liverpool, which explains why Brendan Rodgers made forwards his priority and signed Christian Benteke from Aston Villa, Hoffenheim's Brazil striker Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings from relegated Burnley.
Arsenal's Arsene Wenger has felt less need to strengthen a squad that retained the FA Cup and returned to the top three, although experienced former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech will doubtless save them plenty of points.
Newcomers Watford, Bournemouth and Norwich City will inevitably be tipped as relegation fodder but Villa, Sunderland and Leicester City, all heavily involved in the scrap to avoid the drop last term, cannot expect much more than mere survival.
($1 = 0.6434 pounds)
(Editing by Ken Ferris)
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