Sat, Aug 04, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Wembley clash offers few clues about year ahead


Don't expect to find any pointers to how the English season will unfold when Manchester United play Chelsea in the Community Shield tomorrow at the new Wembley Stadium.

The winner of the traditional season-opener between league champion and FA Cup holder has gone on to lift the Premier League trophy just once in the past 10 years.

Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-1 last season, but it was the Blues who went on to win the FA Cup and League Cup, while the Reds finished without a trophy.

United and Chelsea will both be without several players tomorrow because of injury, further suggesting that the first season opener at the rebuilt Wembley is mostly a chance for an early confidence boost.

The Community Shield had been played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, the past six years while Wembley was torn down and replaced with a new state-of-the-art venue.

United will be without captain Gary Neville and strikers Louis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer because of injuries. The trio missed a preseason tour of Asia -- Neville with an ankle problem, and Saha and Solskjaer because of knee injuries -- and may not even recover in time for United's Aug. 12 Premier League opener against Reading.

"Those lads are still not ready," manager Alex Ferguson said.

"We are looking at a couple of weeks for the three of them." Chelsea is in no better shape, with 12 players carrying injuries or out of action.

Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho complained last year that his players were unfit and tired at the start of the season because many of them had participated at the World Cup in Germany. This time, the squad has struggled with a grueling preseason schedule that has included games in the United States, Scotland and Denmark.

While Claude Makelele, Michael Essien, John Terry, Arjen Robben, Andriy Shevchenko and Lassana Diarra were expected to return to training and could feature tomorrow, left back Wayne Bridge is out until November because of a hip injury.

Midfielder Michael Ballack could also miss the start of the season after having surgery on an ankle injury for a second time during the offseason.

Still, all those injuries may mean that Chelsea fans at the 80,000-seat Wembley should get a chance to see their team's new players earlier than they otherwise might.

Steve Sidwell joined Chelsea on a free transfer from Reading and impressed in a preseason loss to Rangers. With Essien and Makelele struggling because of knee problems, Sidwell is likely to start in midfield tomorrow.

"I wanted to show the boss that I can stand out," Sidwell said.

"He's got confidence in putting me into games and throwing me in at the deep end, so it was nice for me to get a good performance under my belt, and hopefully it will plant a seed in his memory." Chelsea's other free signings, Claudio Pizarro and Tal Ben Haim, could also make their full debuts for the club.

While Chelsea has spent ?13.5 million (US$27 million) in the offseason, acquiring winger Florent Malouda from Lyon, United has spent about ?50 million.

England midfielder Owen Hargreaves, Portugal winger Nani and Brazil's Anderson have bolstered a United squad that defied preseason predictions by denying Chelsea a third straight Premier League title.

Nani scored twice in United's preseason tour but may sit out the Community Shield after missing Wednesday's friendly against Inter Milan because of an ankle injury.

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