Chelsea still biggest threat – Fergie

United take on Chelsea in Sunday’s Community Shield at Wembley.

Although Manchester City have once again been England’s biggest

spenders this summer, Liverpool have kept hold of Fernando Torres

and Steven Gerrard and Tottenham are buoyed by a favourable

Champions League qualifying draw, Ferguson is adamant last season’s

double winners are the team to beat. Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti

has been active in the transfer market, striking early to lure

Yossi Benayoun south from Anfield and then agreeing an

£18million fee with Benfica for Brazilian midfielder Ramires.

And, although there are still doubts hanging over the futures of

defensive duo Ashley Cole and Ricardo Carvalho, Ferguson will be

looking to Stamford Bridge for the main danger this term. “With the

experience Chelsea have got, you have to look at them being the

biggest threat,” said Ferguson. “They won the league and the cup

last year and I do think you have to see the team that won the

league as the ones you look at. “I don’t see why anyone should

think any different. Chelsea have the experience. You can’t dismiss

them.” Not that Ferguson is ignoring the other challengers either.

He has been saying for years now that the general standard at the

top end of the table is improving and is convinced the trend is

continuing, despite Sam Allardyce’s claim that more top players are

being put off Premier League life by the 50 per cent top rate of

tax. “It is a league with a lot of dangers,” he said. “The

competition is being raised all the time. “Last year, the monopoly

of the big four was squashed when Tottenham came into it and they

will make progress this year. “Manchester City have bought again,

so you obviously have to put them into the equation and Everton,

who had so many injury problems last year, will also come into it.

“There is no doubt in my mind it is going to be a more competitive

league every year now.” Not that Ferguson intends to read too much

into the result. Given that Chelsea won last season’s encounter on

penalties and then went on to win the title by a single point, it

could be viewed as a barometer of what lies ahead. However, with so

many just back from their World Cup exertions, Ferguson knows it is

more important to ensure his players all have enough match practice

under their belts ahead of the new campaign, which means Wayne

Rooney and Nemanja Vidic may have their appearance restricted on

Sunday. “We always take the long view,” said Ferguson. “There is no

point pushing players too early, so I don’t think we will get the

benefit of these players until the third week of the season. “The

World Cup is probably the pinnacle of a lot of players’ careers.

The intensity and profile of it means it does take a lot out of

them and we have to give them a proper rest. “It does mean early in

the season there is a little bit of risk in terms of knowing

players are 100 per cent ready to be involved in these games.”

Rooney and Vidic have been promised some involvement, as have

Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia, who also made their first

pre-season appearances in Dublin on Wednesday after overcoming

hamstring and calf problems respectively. Patrice Evra will not

feature, though, given he has only just returned to training, while

Michael Carrick has been ruled out for a fortnight with an ankle

injury sustained against the Airtricity League XI. However, amongst

the long-term absentees there is some good news about Brazilian

midfielder Anderson, who is nearing the end of his recovery from a

cruciate ligament operation and showing no ill effects following a

car crash earlier this week. “The car thing wasn’t as bad as was

made out,” said Ferguson. “There is no problem there. The important

thing is that he has made a good recovery from his injury and he

will start training again in two weeks.”