Sun, Aug 13, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Reds and Blues gear up for season's curtain raiser

AFP , CARDIFF

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho answers questions at a press conference at the Chelsea training ground in Cobham, England, on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

Old enemies Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez lock horns yet again this weekend as Chelsea and Liverpool compete for the Community Shield, the traditional opener to the English Premiership season.

On the field, the teams will be led out by England's new captain and vice-captain, respectively John Terry of Chelsea and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard, named by national coach Steve McClaren this week.

The Community Shield -- which pits the previous season's Premiership title holders against the FA Cup winners -- can have great significance as a pointer for the season to come.

This is especially true this year with both teams unveiling some major signings, among them Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko for Chelsea and Liverpool's Craig Bellamy and Jermaine Pennant.

For Liverpool manager Benitez, today's game at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff offers a chance to show that his Liverpool side are still able to get the better of Chelsea on big occasions, despite the Londoners' current dominance in the English game.

The teams have 10 met times in the past two seasons thanks to a series of cup and European clashes, with Liverpool famously knocking the Blues out of the Champions League en route to winning the trophy last year.

Nonetheless, Benitez can only look enviously at Chelsea's consecutive titles given that Liverpool won the last of their record 18 championships way back in 1990.

The managers' frosty relations were not helped by comments Mourinho made during a pre-season US tour in which he seemed to dismiss the Reds' Premiership hopes this year.

But speaking on Friday ahead of the Community Shield, Mourinho insisted there was no animosity.

"Maybe he has a problem with me -- but I do not have a problem, not between me and Rafael Benitez," Mourinho said.

He also insisted Liverpool were "a very difficult team to beat" and thus Premiership challengers.

"I think Liverpool are also candidates for the Premiership -- but more important than that I think they are candidates to win every game," he explained.

Chelsea will be led into action by David Beckham's successor as England captain, something Terry called "the ultimate honor", and will also field Ballack and Shevchenko.

But Mourinho must make do without injured midfielder Joe Cole and goalkeeper Peter Cech, while French midfielder Claude Makelele is rested.

William Gallas, the French defender who failed to turn up to Chelsea's pre-season tour, is back training with the club but "will not be selected" tomorrow, Mourinho said.

McClaren picked Terry to be England captain over joint favorite Gerrard -- and Benitez said he hoped the decision could benefit Liverpool.

"Now the decision has been made, from my point of view as Liverpool manager I know now he will be totally focused on our team and that can be better for us," he said.

Liverpool will again be without injured striker Robbie Fowler and defender Fabio Aurelio.

"If they really had to play they would, but it is not important for this game, we would rather wait until next weekend," Benitez said.

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