LONDON // With less than a month to go, the Premier League battle lines have been drawn and the Chelsea players, past and present, have mocked Sir Alex Ferguson's claims that they could be too old to challenge for honours this season. The Manchester United manager believes his side, packed with energetic and hungry youngsters, will prove too strong, and that Arsenal and Liverpool pose more of a threat than the Blues. "What I'm saying is that I don't see outstanding progress coming from a team that's in their 30s," said Ferguson.
His comments will fire up Luiz Felipe Scolari and his Chelsea players, who beat Guangzhou Pharmaceutical 4-0 in the opening game of their Far East tour yesterday. Frank Lampard shrugged off talk about his own future to score with a superb chip. Salomon Kalou, Franco di Santo and Shaun Wright-Phillips were also on target against the Chinese side, although Jose Bosingwa picked up a thigh injury. The former Chelsea defender Ron Harris said: "I think he (Ferguson) was talking out of his backside. Some United players are getting on, like [Paul] Scholes, Giggsy (Ryan Giggs) and [Edwin van der Sar]. Sides that win things have experienced players."
The midfielder Michael Essien agrees and says their players over 30 will prove their worth for Scolari. "Deco, (Michael) Ballack and Lampard are world-class players and you can see that in training and during the games," he said. "They can always change a game. We have a winning mentality. Chelsea will win the title." Their cause will be helped if Cristiano Ronaldo is sold to Real Madrid, and the Spanish side's midfielder Guti would love to see him at the Bernabeu.
"Real Madrid need good players and Ronaldo is the best player you can bring in right now," he admitted. Meanwhile, the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is also quietly confident about Arsenal's title chances, but has his sights on one more midfield signing. Gareth Barry, booed by his own Aston Villa fans during a friendly game, is among the targets. The Frenchman said: "We will need one more body in there."
And the Manchester City boss Mark Hughes is looking for new men up front after the striker Benjani was ruled out for the start of the new season with a thigh injury. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org