United, Chelsea pack experienced punch

Chelsea may be playing their first Champions League final and Manchester United appearing in the showpiece event only after a nine-year absence, but there will be no shortage of experience when the two sides line up at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Wednesday.

Such is the spending power of the Premier League that, potentially, at kick-off 13 players out of the 22 lining up will have already played in a Champions League final.

Yet only Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, who is almost certain not to play any part at all, would be doing so for the same club they played for the last time they appeared in European club football’s glamour match.

But it is a measure of the attraction of the English club game that a team such as Chelsea, who have reached this stage for the first time, could select eight players who have already played in a Champions League final—six of whom finished on the winning side.

Those players have all been signed in the last five years, and signed because of the reputations they built up at previous clubs.

Of United’s quintet of stars to have played in this match, only Patrice Evra hasn’t won it, although goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar finished on the winning and losing sides for Ajax in successive seasons—1995 and 1996.

His appearances were the first of any of the 13 players, with United pair Giggs and Neville next in 1999.

Chelsea’s French forward, Nicolas Anelka, played for Real Madrid in their 3-0 victory over Valencia in 2000 while United’s Owen Hargreaves was part of the Bayern Munich team that beat Valencia on penalties the next year.

Chelsea duo Michael Ballack and Claude Makelele appeared on opposite sides in 2002, with the German’s Bayer Leverkusen beaten 2-1 by the Frenchman’s Madrid.

A year after that Andrei Shevchenko was part of the AC Milan team that beat Juventus in the final and he also appeared on the losing side in 2005 against Liverpool—alongside Van der Sar he is the only player of the 13 to have played in two finals.

Evra played against both Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira in the 2004 final when the Portuguese pair enjoyed Porto’s 3-0 defeat of Monaco.

The last ones of the group to play in the final were Chelsea fullbacks Juliano Belletti and Ashley Cole, who were on opposite sides in 2006 when Barcelona beat Arsenal. Belletti actually notched the winner after coming on as a substitute.

In reality, though, Shevchenko, Neville, Belletti and Ferreira are almost certain not to start while Hargreaves might not, depending on the formation United boss Sir Alex Ferguson opts for.

Anelka is also likely to start on the bench as Chelsea manager Avram Grant favours Didier Drogba up front on his own, while Giggs could play second fiddle to Korean Park Ji-Sung.

That means there may only be as few as six of the 13 playing from the start.

But whatever happens, neither side could justifiably claim to lack experience on club football’s highest stage.—AFP

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