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Premier League returns right on time

FA Community Shield: Highlights of Manchester United's 2-0 victory over Wigan.
FA Community Shield: Highlights of Manchester United's 2-0 victory over Wigan.
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Warren Barton

Warren Barton draws on 16 years of professional soccer experience as a studio analyst for FOX Soccer. With more than 350 Barclays Premier League appearances, Barton starred for Wimbledon before rising to prominence with Newcastle United and the England national team. Follow him on Twitter.

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GRACE PERIOD

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Football is finally back!

I know I speak for a lot of fans when I say there’s nothing like the start of a new season, and this year we have a lot of stories to keep an eye on. There are ton of new managers, a lot of intrigue yet to come in the transfer market, and we’re going to see a very tight competition from top to bottom.

But let’s start with Sunday’s curtain-raiser at Wembley Stadium, the Community Shield. Manchester United had a statement to make, and thanks to Robin van Persie, they did with a 2-0 victory over Wigan Athletic.

This was what we call a potential “banana skin,” in England: when a team is expected to win a game, they sometimes slip up with embarrassing results. David Moyes was under a bit of pressure in this one: not only is he succeeding the greatest manager in the game, but he was facing a Championship side, as Wigan were relegated last year. Had United lost this game, the knives would have come out at Old Trafford.

That didn’t happen, and United will take away a lot of positives from this one. The United players looked rejuvenated, and there was a sense of relief when they got to raise that trophy at the end of the game. Tom Cleverly looked very sharp, Patrice Evra certainly gave Moyes something to think about in defense, and van Persie is just picking up from where he left off.

David Moyes captured his first piece of silverware as Manchester United manager (Photo: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images).

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New man Wilifried Zaha has to learn a bit, and it was good to see Ryan Giggs, this year’s player-coach for the side, go over and have a word with the young lad. Zaha has got to know when to play tricks and when to just pass the ball. He is still learning, and there’s no doubt about his talent, but at United you’re expected to step in and perform. He’s got to pick it up quickly, or he’ll find himself on the bench.

And then there’s Moyes. He’s his own man, and he’s a fine coach but United is not Everton. There is a whole different level that the Scot has stepped up to, and it’s very different to go from being expected to compete and being expected to win. Fortunately for United fans, he’s realistic in how he’s going to approach the season. He knows he has a team of winners, and he has to make some changes at the margins for now rather than blow things up wholesale.

United fans will also take comfort from is that the Wayne Rooney saga -- which has hung over this team -- didn’t affect them on Sunday. When was the last time a player of his caliber wanted to leave a sure thing like United? Well, Rooney apparently does. Let’s give Moyes some credit for not letting that noise affect his men at Wembley.

But it will be a far tougher job for Moyes and United to win the league this year. Realistically, three or four teams are fighting for the prize, and it’s difficult right now to pick a clear winner.

Manchester City, on paper, are improved and have the best team in the league. Manuel Pellegrini is a very fine manager, he’s shown that in Europe, and that front line looks clinical when on point. City should not be as inconsistent as they were last year under much-maligned coach Roberto Mancini. Expect City to be very strong in both England and Europe.

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  • Which club will win the 2013-14 Premier League title?
    • Manchester United
    • Manchester City
    • Chelsea
    • Arsenal
    • Other

Chelsea also have a lot going for them, and Jose Mourinho’s return is one of the stories to watch this season. Mourinho’s second stanza is fascinating, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles himself. He had a habit of riling other teams and managers, and we’ll see if he will try to play it in a more mature way this time around. Mourinho is a manager like Sir Alex Ferguson -- Fergie was said to give his teams ten points a year because of his canny tactics on and off the field -- and the same can be said about Mourinho.

Arsenal and Liverpool will keep those three teams honest, and if Tottenham retain Gareth Bale, they’ll be in the top four, no doubt. But there’s a lot of question marks over all three teams, and until the transfer window shuts, we’re not going to have all the answers we need.

Finally, I do want to address my old club, Newcastle. We had a disappointing season last year, but I do think we’ll be better. Expect Alan Pardew to have learned the lessons and there is a feeling around St. James that they can be special. I know I’ll be pulling for them all season long.

As always, I love hearing from you guys, so do follow me on Twitter @WarrenBarton2 or tweet questions to @FOXSoccer. And as you know, we have a brand new home this year on FOX Sports 1 with a great daily show: FOX Soccer Daily. Join us on Aug. 19 for our debut – I know I’m excited. Thanks for reading and I will see you here and on FOX Sports 1 all season long!

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