In the next small stage of what seems set to become an enduring rivalry, Jose Mourinho will have a chance tonight to compare his new Chelsea team's performance against the Italian champions Milan with that of Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United. At the Giants Stadium on Saturday, United played their best football of the three-match American tour but conceded a last-minute equaliser to Andriy Shevchenko to draw 1-1 and lost a penalty shoot-out 9-8. Tonight in Philadelphia it is the turn of Mourinho's side, who have been impressive so far in the Champions World series while beating Celtic 4-2 and Roma 3-0.
A further success against last season's Serie A winners would put an even bouncier spring in Chelsea's step as they return home for Gianfranco Zola's testimonial match next Sunday and United's visit to Stamford Bridge the following weekend. Apart from Mateja Kezman's sending off against Roma, it has been an altogether smoother trip for the London side, some of whose football has been outstanding.
Ferguson's team are already back in England, claiming to be unconcerned about results but clearly disappointed not to have won a game. Flying Paul Scholes and Mikaël Silvestre out to New York to play less than 75 minutes of Saturday's match illustrated how keen they were to make an impression on the pitch and off it. The ploy seemed to have worked when Scholes, playing in attack with Alan Smith, scored after 33 minutes, but Shevchenko poked in a goal following a late free-kick conceded by the uncertain Wes Brown.
In the shoot-out there was a starring role for the local boy Tim Howard, who saved from Hernan Crespo but had his own kick turned onto a post by his opposite number, Nelson Dida. "Thank God he missed, I was next," joked Ferguson, who added in more serious vein: "You like to win pre-season friendlies but the main thing is to get to 11 August with the best XI available." That is the date of United's Champions' League qualifying tie, probably in Bucharest, and two friendlies at Old Trafford this week, as well as the Community Shield game with Arsenal on Sunday, will be used as preparation for it.
Before that the manager must find time to review the lessons of this tour with his chief executive, David Gill, one of which will be that long trips should be avoided in years with a European Championship or World Cup taking place. "The tours clearly are lucrative, we make no bones about that," Gill said before returning to Manchester. "We don't have someone with an open chequebook to buy players for us so we have to generate income ourselves."
Chelsea - the object of that "open chequebook" dig - will meet one of their most extravagant acquisitions in opposition colours tonight if Crespo turns out for Milan, whom he has joined on loan for the season.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Howard; Bardsley (P Neville, h-t), Brown, G Neville, Silvestre (Spector, 74); Bellion (Eagles, 68), Djemba-Djemba, Keane, Giggs (Richardson, 78); Smith, Scholes (Forlan, 68).
Milan (4-4-2): Dida; Cafu, Nesta (Costacurta, 68) Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso (Brocchi, 68), Pirlo (Serginho, 57) Kaka, Ambrosini (Dhorasoo, 57); Shevchenko, Crespo.
Referee: K Stott (USA).