ManU meets Chelsea in season opener

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Don't expect to find any pointers to how the English season will unfold when Manchester United plays Chelsea in the Community Shield on Sunday.

Updated: August 04, 2007 07:18 IST
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Don't expect to find any pointers to how the English season will unfold when Manchester United plays Chelsea in the Community Shield on Sunday 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 because of injury on Sunday, 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.

Chelsea is in no better shape, with 12 players carrying injuries or out of action.

Chelsea manager 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 Sunday, 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 on Sunday.

"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 only spent 13.5 million pounds ($27 million) in the offseason, acquiring winger Florent Malouda from Lyon, United has spent about 50 million pounds ($102 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.

Anderson, who missed the tour to play at the Copa America with Brazil, and Hargreaves are set to make their debuts in Friday's friendly at Doncaster and could even play again Saturday against Peterborough.

Ferguson said Sunday's team would likely be the one that played in the 3-2 loss to Inter. That included no new players, with John O'Shea partnering Michael Carrick in central midfield, and Wayne Rooney up front supported by Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs.

United is winless in its last four matches with Chelsea, but can draw comfort from the fact that Liverpool's victory over Chelsea last year was just the first time in five years that the Premier League champion did not win the Community Shield.

The teams' last three meetings have been drawn. If the teams finish level Sunday, a penalty shootout will decide the winner.

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