Man U, Chelsea well matched in Champions League

Manchester United has another English title and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Chelsea has a huge, talented squad and the wealth of owner Roman Abramovich.

There is no underdog in this Champions League final as two English clubs make history by going head to head in Moscow.

United vs Chelsea at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday effectively means that the Premier League has come to Russia, the first time two English teams have met in the final of European soccer’s most prestigious competition.

So far as the lineups are concerned, it’s tough to predict a winner.

In terms of what the two coaches have achieved, however, it’s a hugely lopsided game and that could give United the edge once more.

Alex Ferguson has averaged virtually a trophy a season during the 22 years he has been at Old Trafford having just edged Chelsea to his 10th Premier League title. Among his haul of triumphs are five FA Cups and a Champions League in 1999.

Avram Grant has nothing to compare with that. But the former Israel coach has only been in charge of Chelsea for seven months since Jose Mourinho left in September and, having lost out to Tottenham in the League Cup final and United in the league title race, is chasing his first success.

Ferguson acknowledges Grant’s achievement in going so close to three titles in his first season and the Scot appears amazed that there is strong speculation that the Israeli may be fired because of Chelsea’s unimaginative, colourless play.

”There’s a lot of clubs that would give a manager a 10-year contract for doing that,” the Scot said. ”It’s not something that anyone can do.

”It couldn’t have been easy taking over from Mourinho in midseason.

He was pretty much unknown in this country. Now he’s in a Champions League final. He’s done exceptionally well for a manager in his first season and Chelsea are still a very hard team to beat. They are big, strong and experienced and they are experts at holding on for 1-0 victories.”

Ferguson knows that he was close to being fired by United after he failed to win a trophy in his first three years at Old Trafford. The 21 titles that followed have more than made up for that although he is frustrated that United has not won the Champions League more often.

”Look at the records of Real Madrid with nine titles, AC Milan with seven and Liverpool with five. Ajax and Bayern Munich have four each.

That’s the kind of record we should really have,” said Ferguson, who has only taken United to two finals in 14 attempts. ”That’s one thing that should drive us all on now.”

Now that two English teams have made it to the final, there’s a feeling it could happen on a regular basis.

Three Premier League teams have made it to the semifinals two seasons in a row and this is the fourth year in succession that an English club has been in the final. Liverpool won the title in 2005 and lost to AC Milan in last season’s final and Arsenal tumbled to Barcelona in 2006.

Because of the huge amount of revenue they receive from TV, English clubs can pay attractive wages and that’s the reason the likes of Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko moved to Chelsea and that established English players such as Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard, United’s Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney and Chelsea’s John Terry and Frank Lampard see no reason to move abroad.

The Luzhniki Stadium’s artificial playing surface has been ripped up and replaced for this final with natural turf.

That should make it feel even more like a high-speed Premier League game as if it were at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea likely will want to force the pace with Joe Cole running at the United defense, Didier Drogba using his height and guile to unsettle Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic and Ballack and Lampard supporting the front men either with runs from deep or getting into close range scoring positions.

United will rely on swift counter attacks using the pace of Ronaldo, the power of Rooney and the finishing of Carlos Tevez. Ronaldo has also scored 41 league and cup goals this season which Ferguson says is amazing for a winger and he has been compared with another United great of the past, George Best, who scored in the European Cup final victory over Benfica 40 years ago.

Michael Essien’s expected switch to rightback will take away some of his influence in midfield where Paul Scholes hopes to run the show for United.

The all-English final in Moscow has created the potential for fan trouble, especially if the 40 000 visiting supporters are able to get their hands on alcohol. The Russian police are tough on misbehaving fans and likely won’t be as tolerant of drunken behavior. – Sapa-AP

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