Football: Ferguson praises Gullit

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Alex Ferguson was yesterday relishing Manchester United's biggest challenge of the season so far - tonight's visit of Ruud Gullit's Chelsea to Old Trafford.

The United manager admits that one of the biggest regrets is that he once rejected the chance to give Gullit the opportunity to parade his skills at United but Ferguson is full of admiration for the way the Dutchman has transformed the fortunes of Chelsea.

"This is the hardest game we have faced so far," Ferguson said. "But these are the games that we really enjoy and look forward to because Chelsea have done ever so well and it all adds up to a very good match.

"Ruud has done very well at Chelsea. He has brought a greater ambition to Chelsea and set their standards a lot higher.

"I said at the start of the season that I saw them as genuine title contenders and have seen no reason why I should change my way of thinking."

The Chelsea chairman, Ken Bates, has constantly restated that his dream is to turn the Blues into a force capable of knocking United off the Premiership summit, in terms of silverware, support and pure financial muscle.

There is no doubt that they have closed the gap on the field in recent years. Last season they ended United's near two-year unbeaten home record with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford and then drew 1-1 at Stamford Bridge.

When Chelsea run out at Old Trafford it will be to face a team unbeaten in eight matches after Saturday's draw at Bolton

The home side have Ryan Giggs waiting for a recall after missing last week's Champions' League win at Kosice and the bruising Bolton game with a hamstring strain but Teddy Sheringham is likely to be given more time to recover from broken ribs following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's successful return at the weekend.

"There won't be many changes and my main decision is whether to use Giggs from the start or from the bench but I won't risk Sheringham," Ferguson said.

"There is a possibility he may make the bench but we have got to be dead sure that his ribs are okay."