Manchester City's Patrick Vieira has staked an ambitious claim to kick off the football calendar by declaring that Roberto Mancini's men can win the Barclays Premier League this season.
The Frenchman, who ended his playing career at the Etihad, added that five other teams were in for a shout, but that City were as good as any of the top clubs.
"The league is more exciting now than ever and there are six teams that can win it," the 35-year-old said.
"City are now as good as United, Arsenal and Chelsea and we should not be afraid to say we can win the title.
"It will not be easy but I think people can count on City being there right until the end. If you look at the quality of the team and how City have improved over the last few years, we can now challenge to win the Premier League.”
In his new role as Manchester City's football development executive, Vieira is also full of confidence with the players arriving at the club.
"We are improving a lot and some fantastic players have joined us this summer and we are strong enough to compete at the top.
"Sergio Aguero is a goalscorer and can make a difference in the big games. When the players look around and see him it will give them the confidence that will help them win.
"Gael Clichy is another excellent signing and a player that will improve the team further.”
Vieira helped the Blues to FA Cup victory and narrowly missed out on runners up spot in the league last year after finishing on level points with Chelsea who managed to score nine more goals than City. But he predicted the coming season would be even closer at the top.
"The top six are stronger than ever but the other teams are really competitive. Manchester United - or anyone else - can lose games anywhere. It will be a really open season,” he declared.
"It's exciting because it could be a fantastic season ahead for the football club and I can't wait to see the team perform."
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