LONDON (AFP) - Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will get his first real taste of life without Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in Sunday's Community Shield clash against Chelsea.
After spending the last month engaged in a series of pre-season friendlies around the globe that amounted to little more than glorified training sessions, Ferguson is ready for serious business at Wembley this weekend.
While neither Ferguson or Chelsea's new manager Carlo Ancelotti will read too much into the result of the traditional curtain-raiser to the English season, it is safe to say the Scot will be looking for signs that United can cope without a duo who have been such influential figures over the last two seasons.
Ronaldo's 67 goals in that period played a massive role in United's success in the Premier League and Champions League, while Tevez's priceless ability to snatch a crucial goal after coming off the bench turned countless matches in United's favour.
A world record 80 million pounds fee for Ronaldo softened the blow of his exit to Real Madrid, but Tevez's defection to Manchester City still leaves a bitter taste at Old Trafford.
Now Ferguson can test their replacements in a more competitive environment before the domestic campaign gets underway on August 15.
His decision to rescue Michael Owen from the scrapheap raised eyebrows because the England striker had been so bereft of form and fitness at Newcastle that it was hard to imagine he would ever recapture his glory days.
Owen looked rusty against Valencia in midweek but Ferguson remains convinced he will add a different dimension to his attack.
Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia had been on Ferguson's radar for several years, yet the 17 million pounds signing from Wigan will have to improve his goalscoring record dramatically to fill in for Ronaldo.
In truth, Ferguson knows it is almost impossible to buy replacements for unique talents like Ronaldo and Tevez. Instead he will tweak his tactics to bring the best out of Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and the likes of Anderson and Nani.
"Adversity is always an important factor in developing and improving," he said.
"I have always reacted well to adversity over the years and whenever we lose a match I tell my players that the next game is the important one - the match we have to focus on. That has always been the case here at the club."
Ferguson must also decide whether Ben Foster or Tomasz Kuszczak will deputise for Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who is sidelined for eight weeks after finger surgery.
"I do have a decision to make over the goalkeeper for Sunday," Ferguson said.
"Both Ben and Tomasz have outstanding qualities. Tomasz made two great saves, as he did against Boca Juniors, so we will see."
Meanwhile, Ancelotti can land an early psychological blow against the team Chelsea have to overhaul to win the title for the first time since 2006.
The former AC Milan coach's success in the Champions League impressed Blues owner Roman Abramovich but Chelsea's players would dearly love to end United's three-year reign as English champions.
Nicolas Anelka, Chelsea's French striker, said: "United are still a strong team and Ferguson is a good manager who knows what to do, but I don't think they'll be as strong this season.
"Ronaldo has gone, Tevez has gone, and maybe that will give us more of a chance to win this title and to be stronger than United."