London, Aug 8: Jose Mourinho says Chelsea will have to survive a much sterner examination than last season if the champions are to mount a successful defence of the Premier League title.
Mourinho's side begin the new campaign against Swansea on Saturday as the bookmakers' favourites to retain the title they won at a canter, but the Blues boss is convinced the challenge from their rivals will be much stronger this time.
The west Londoners finished eight points clear of second placed Manchester City and rarely looked like surrendering the lead in a title race they led for virtually the entire season.
But Chelsea have spluttered in pre-season and could be without last season's top scorer Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge this weekend due to his recurring hamstring injury.
Those teething troubles, combined with the big spending of Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool -- as well as Arsenal's impressive resurgence, have convinced Mourinho that Chelsea will be under severe pressure right from the start this year.
"It depends not just about you, it's also about the others," he said just hours before signing a new four-year contract on Friday.
"You can have a good season and somebody was better than you, a little bit better, a couple of points more than you, then I don't think it's a failure.
"I just think credit to the others. Let's try to be a good team and let's try to be here in March, April speaking to you about the possibility of winning something."
Manchester United open the top-flight season in Saturday's early fixture at home to Tottenham.
They are looking for signs that they are ready to mount a sustained assault on Chelsea's title.
Last season's equivalent fixture, a 3-0 home win on March 15, proved the belated catalyst for a run of form that ensured Louis van Gaal ended his first season as manager with United back in the Champions League places.
But with some £77 million ($120 million, 110 million euros) having been spent on new players including Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, United have set their sights a little higher.
"(Last season) we could see that we were getting better gradually, but we just needed that consistency in our performances and then, obviously, in results," captain Wayne Rooney told ESPN this week.
"But we could see in each game we were getting better. I feel this season
for the first time, rather than the last two seasons, we're ready to challenge again." AFP