Sun, Nov 26, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Cristiano Ronaldo takes a swipe at Chelsea

AP , LONDON

Manchester United's Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo is a master at taunting defenders with his feints and stepovers.

Off the field, he's taken a bold swipe at Chelsea which is sure to irritate the Blues going into today's showdown before 76,000 at Old Trafford -- the biggest match so far this season in the Premier League.

Ronaldo's point:

Chelsea are no better this season than they were last despite spending a reported ?31 million (US$60 million) for striker Andriy Shevchenko, and paying midfielder Michael Ballack about ?120,000 a week following a free transfer from Bayern Munich.

"I think Chelsea are about the same as they were last year," Ronaldo said.

"The transfers of Shevchenko and Ballack haven't changed them too much in terms of superiority to everybody else. They have to work harder to win games, and they just do enough to win," he said.

Shevchenko has only scored four goals in all competitions so far this season, while teammate Didier Drogba has 14. Ballack has three.

This is the first time since Jose Mourinho took over for the 2004-05 season that two-time defending champions Chelsea face a serious threat for the title.

Manchester United lead with 34 points and Chelsea have 31. Next are Portsmouth with 23 and Arsenal and Aston Villa on 22.

Both Man United and Chelsea are coming off 1-0 losses in the Champions League -- Chelsea against Werder Bremen and United vs. Celtic.

Ronaldo praised Mourinho, who is also Portuguese, and suggested Chelsea would collapse if he left.

"I can't speak badly about him [Mourinho]," Ronaldo said. "But I'd like to see what would happen if he were to leave."

The game offers some intriguing matchups all over the field.

In midfield, Chelsea's physical quartet of Claude Makelele, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Ballack could overpower United, who will rely on Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick to direct play.

The matchup between Ronaldo and England leftback Ashley Cole might be the best of all, while both clubs have bull-like strikers -- Drogba vs. Wayne Rooney.

"For the first time we're in front with the prospect of going six points clear," Man United manager Alex Ferguson said. "We can have them chasing us rather than be chasing them."

Meanwhile, Lampard noted that the season is barely one-third over.

"It's a must-not-lose game for us," he said. "Our intention is to win the game and, if not, then draw. Even if we lose, there is a long way to go."

Man United vs. Chelsea is a match between very different clubs.

Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon, who moved from the same position at Old Trafford three years ago, has directed the spending of the Blues' Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.

"The team is the best we've had in my three years here, and I don't think we've seen the best of it yet," Kenyon said.

Chelsea have aspirations to be the world's biggest soccer club within the next decade, overtaking the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid AC Milan and FC Barcelona.

"Manchester United was built around heritage," Kenyon said. "Chelsea's success was sporadic. We had not had that depth of heritage to fall back on. ... We attracted I think the top manager in Europe, possibly the world, and we had to create success. Being different is in our DNA."

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson laughed off Kenyon's comments.

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