Manchester - Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is anticipating a dogfight in the race to finish in the top four of the English Premier League and so secure a Champions League place.
Tottenham Hotspur broke into the leading quartet last term and with Manchester City's big-spending showing few signs of slowing down, it appears the so-called 'Big Four' of United, champions Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool will no longer have things all their own way.
Indeed Liverpool slipped to seventh last season, a drop down only marginally offset by the fact arch-rivals United failed to top the table, leaving both clubs tied on an English record 18 championships.
"Things definitely changed last season - it was a different league altogether compared to what we'd seen before," Ferguson told United's official website on Wednesday.
"The top four found it difficult and dropped points in games they wouldn't have expected to," the Scot, who last weekend guided United to victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield final at Wembley, explained.
"That's an indication of the improvement made by other teams, and I think there'll be a bit of a dogfight for the top four places this season."
Ferguson added: "We all have to be aware of the threats from the likes of Villa, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester City - they'll all be challenging to get into that top four."
United, who finished a point behind Chelsea last term, begin the new season at home to Newcastle at Old Trafford on Monday.