Deflated Chelsea reluctant party hosts

Deflated and leg-weary, Chelsea host Premier League champions Manchester United on Wednesday in a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup final on May 19.

Chelsea’s hopes of securing a third successive league title ended at the weekend, their pursuit of Alex Ferguson’s side brought to a halt by London rivals Arsenal.

Jose Mourinho’s team celebrated last season’s title after crushing United 3-0 at Stamford Bridge but it will be the visiting fans in party mood this time.

The Portuguese has promised that United, like his own side received two years ago, will be given a guard of honour.

“It is obvious we will give them a guard of honour on Wednesday, as they did with us at Old Trafford,” Mourinho told reporters.

But Mourinho, unaccustomed to being a runner-up, could not bring himself to say the new champions were the better side, choosing instead to describe his own team as “heroes”.

“They are the team with more points, for me that is enough. I see football in a very pragmatic way,” he said of United’s triumph.

Mourinho motioned to Chelsea’s fans to “keep their chins up” after the 1-1 draw at Arsenal and is already looking to the 2007-08 campaign.

“Next season we will be ready,” he said. “We have still the FA Cup final to play but July 9 [in training], we will start again and this game gives, in terms of spirit, the standard for what we have to do.”

With the league done and dusted, both sides will hope to sign off the season with more silverware at the new Wembley.

“We’re certainly looking forward to the cup final,” said Ferguson.

“When people were saying they hoped Wembley would be ready for May, I was hoping we would get there.
If we’d got knocked out then I was praying it wouldn’t be finished.” - Reuters

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