Chelsea hopes the season of discontent is over.
The highlight of the Blues' preseason, which passed off without any of the big-money transfers of the past four years, was the peace deal between manager Jose Mourinho and owner Roman Abramovich.
The two fell out last season after the arrival of Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko, and later over Abramovich's refusal to fund any transfers during an injury-hit winter.
Chelsea, which had won two consecutive Premier League championships, surrendered the title to Manchester United and lost in the semifinals of the Champions League to Liverpool again.
But the Blues still managed to win the FA Cup and League Cup.
The behind-the-scenes turmoil contributed to constant speculation about Mourinho's future at the club. Abramovich stopped attending matches or visiting the locker room afterward.
Last month, the two made up.
"It left everything clear between us," Mourinho said. "The air is clear again and there is no problem."
Mourinho even accepted the arrival of Avram Grant as technical director. The former Israel coach will be responsible for liaison on all soccer issues relating to the club and will work with chief executive Peter Kenyon, Mourinho and Frank Arnesen, who is director of youth development and scouting.
But Mourinho also warned Grant: "Don't interfere with the power I have in relation to my job."
Mourinho is also willing to take a step back from his regular sniping at fellow managers _ particularly Arsenal's Arsene Wenger and Liverpool's Rafa Benitez.
"I am what I am, but people use my personality to create something that is not true," Mourinho said during Chelsea's preseason tour to the United States. "If I'm emotional or react to something I think isn't fair, it's normal.
"But, over the last couple of years, people have created an image that is not correct. I shouldn't feed it. Instead, I'll be mellow."
On the playing front, Chelsea has been outspent in the transfer market by Liverpool and Manchester United. Three of the Blues' signings have been free transfers _ striker Claudio Pizarro from Bayern Munich, midfielder Steve Sidwell from Reading and defender Tal Ben Haim from Bolton.
Winger Florent Malouda joined for 13.5 million pounds (US$27.3 million; euro20 million) from Lyon and Chelsea is on the verge of signing Brazilian defender Alex from PSV Eindhoven, subject to a work permit.
"Our rivals have strengthened but so have we," Mourinho said. "I don't think it's going to be who spends the most money who wins the league. That has never been the case. It's always been who has the fighting spirit, togetherness and which of the big players had the better season."
The new signings could prove crucial when strikers Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou and midfielders John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien leave to play in the African Cup of Nations in Ghana from Jan. 20 to Feb. 10.
A stronger squad will also help Chelsea's bid to win the Champions League for the first time.
"It doesn't rest on that, this season _ that's not what it's about," Kenyon said. "But one of the things we've said is that you have to win trophies on a regular basis _ you have to win the Premier League and Champions League more than once to reach those heights of being truly recognized as a world club."
Chelsea's acquisitions are small change compared to last season, when it paid AC Milan the highest transfer fee in English soccer history _ 30 million pounds (then US$56 million; euro44 million) to get Shevchenko.
Midfielder Michael Ballack also moved to Chelsea on a free transfer from Bayern Munich, but is paid a weekly salary reported to be 130,000 pounds (then US$250,000; euro190,000) _ among the highest in world soccer.
Both had disappointing debut seasons.
Shevchenko scored only four goals in the league. AC Milan has tried and failed to buy him back. Ballack, who has a reputation as a scoring midfielder, also only had four goals in the league and has been linked with a move to Real Madrid. The Spanish club may yet get a Chelsea player _ winger Arjen Robben is a target for Madrid, but Mourinho is reluctant to let go a player who fits into his preferred 4-3-3 formation.
The good news for Chelsea is that captain John Terry signed a new five-year contract through 2012. Terry, who replaced David Beckham as England captain in 2006, has been at the club since he was 14.
Midfielder Frank Lampard is also negotiating to extend his contract.
Chelsea was hampered by numerous injuries last season. Goalkeeper Petr Cech was out for 2 1/2 months and needed surgery to fix a skull fracture after he was accidentally knocked out during a match.
Terry was sidelined during December and January, and nagging injuries to Ricardo Carvalho meant midfielder Michael Essien often filled in at center back.
Winger Joe Cole missed four months of the season and Robben was troubled by a knee problem throughout the season. Left back Ashley Cole had surgery in the offseason to cure a season-long ankle injury.
Kenyon said the players had returned from their offseason fresher and more eager than last season.
"There's an absolute hunger in this team for success and there's hunger to get the Premiership title back," he said. "I feel very confident about the team. The squad is definitely stronger than last season."
Chelsea hopes the season of discontent is over.