Football: Twin powers call on understudies: Ian Ridley looks ahead to today's Wembley meeting of the Premier elite

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The Independent Online
THERE seem to have been few laments this August that the football season has come too soon, such has been the whetting of appetite by the World Cup and the subsequent signing of several of its personalities, and today's FA Charity Shield between Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers at Wembley should be tasty enough to tease the palate before the main course.

Though i t is between the Premiership's best two teams of last season, this season's TCR (traditional curtain raiser) is likely to bear little resemblance to more intense contests ahead, and much could have changed by the time the teams first meet for real on 23 October. Injuries are at present preoccupying both.

United, who are resting Denis Irwin and Roy Keane after their exertions in the United States, will risk Paul Ince despite a sore knee, while Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister play despite recent groin strains. Paul Parker is ruled out however and David May steps up against his former club after a pounds 2m transfer.

Such have been Blackburn's own problems that in his place they could turn to Tony Gale, now 34 and a free agent after being released by West Ham. He should prove an adequate stop-gap though probably not a long-term replacement. Meanwhile, a virus will keep Alan Shearer out, along with the injured David Batty, Kevin Gallagher, Mike Newell and Paul Warhurst.

There should, however, be sufficient on view to entertain and from which to glean information for any pre-season punt. Eric Cantona will be playing his last game until the end of the month while he serves a three-match suspension for being sent off in the Ibrox International tournament last weekend. We may, too, glimpse the promise of younger players, such as Andrei Kanchelskis's understudy Keith Gillespie and the midfield player Nicky Butt, both on the bench today.

Then there is the chance to assess how the record British signing is fitting into his new surroundings, though not too much should be expected of Chris Sutton given that his striking partner may possibly be the inexperienced Ian Pearce.

Though it may be unrealistic to expect the intensity of the teams' two meetings last season, in which Bruce equalised in the last minute for United at Old Trafford and Shearer's brace won the return at Ewood Park, both should be capable of playing quick, winged football with Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox on one side and Kanchelskis and Ryan Giggs on the other.

Since Arsenal and Tottenham drew 0-0 three years ago, the Charity Shield has produced two worthwhile matches in last year's 1-1 draw between United and Arsenal and, the previous season, Leeds United beating Liverpool 4-3. Cantona scored a hat-trick that day. Enough said.

Manchester United: Schmeichel; May, Sharpe, Bruce,Pallister, Kanchelskis, Ince, McClair, Cantona, Hughes, Giggs. Subs: Dublin, Butt, Casper, Gillespie.

Blackburn (from): Flowers; Berg, Le Saux, Hendry, Gale, Sherwood, Atkins, Warhurst, Slater, Ripley, Pearce, Wright, Wilcox, Makel, Sutton, Mimms.