Luiz Felipe Scolari has lit the fuse on Chelsea's explosive Premier League showdown with Manchester United by admitting he could make a move to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. The first meeting of English football's two superpowers since last season's UEFA Champions League final was already packed with combustable elements, but Scolari has added his own gunpowder to the mix.
He plans to share a bottle of wine with Sir Alex Ferguson after Sunday's clash at Stamford Bridge, but the Brazilian is in for a taste of the United manager's stern treatment instead after giving Ronaldo an open invitation to join him at Chelsea. Ferguson spent most of the close-season fending off Real Madrid's attempts to prise the Portuguese winger from Old Trafford, and he will not have taken kindly to Scolari's tongue-in-cheek comments.
Although Ronaldo, who is set to make his first start of the season after recovering from an ankle injury, thrived under Scolari's leadership for Portugal, the Chelsea manager must realise he has no realistic chance of signing the winger. Yet he cleverly chose the moment of maximum impact to make his michevous offer.
"," he said. "He's my friend. I like him as a father likes his son. But his life is his life. I talked to him once or twice when I was with Portugal, but he had an agent, a mother, friends - he's an intelligent boy.
"He is one of the three best players in the world. I said that two years ago and I repeat it now. When I arrived in Portugal, Ronaldo was a kid. He's improved himself very well in the five or six years since. More in Manchester than with the national team. He's a very good man, helps the other players, a good attitude on and off the pitch. Ronaldo has grown up, matured."
Bridging the fortress
With Scolari hogging the headlines it would be easy to forget that Sunday's match represents a potentially defining moment in the title race. Chelsea's unbeaten start is a marked contrast to the erratic form of United, and a win for the hosts would open up a nine-point lead over the reiging champions.
Just as importantly, it would exact a measure of revenge after Chelsea were pipped to the Premier League and Champions League trophies by Ferguson's side last season. However, if United become the first team to win a league game at the Bridge for 85 matches, they will move to within three points of Chelsea with a game in hand and deliver a serious psychological blow to their title rivals.
United have won just one of their first five matches in all competitions, but Rio Ferdinand is convinced a victory on Sunday would kick-start their campaign. "This game is more imperative because of the way we have started the season," he said.
"Nothing is handed out now but you need to keep yourself within touching distance of the top teams. We have had situations before where we have gone on unbelievable runs and still not won the league, so we don't want to get ourselves into that position where it is too hard.
". We will have beaten a side who is likely to be fighting for the title with us. We can use that as a catalyst for the season."
Ferdinand is likely to be partnered by Wes Brown in the absence of suspended centre-back Nemanja Vidic, while Dimitar Berbatov could return from a knee injury. Didier Drogba will feature at some stage for Chelsea, but Scolari doesn't believe the Ivorian forward is fit enough to complete 90 minutes.