United, Chelsea loaded with experience

Moscow, May 20:

Chelsea may be playing their first ever 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 here 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 which 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.

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. 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 full-backs 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 of United. Anelka is also likely to start on the bench as Chelsea manager Avram Grant favours Didier Drogba up front, 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.