Sir Alex Ferguson delighted to get under Rafael Benitez's skin
11 April 2009 09:52
He claims it was "fantastic" to hear his Liverpool counterpart renew hostilities while preparing for the Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea.
In what is becoming an increasingly bitter rally of verbal exchanges, the Liverpool manager's most recent contribution – the suggestion that Ferguson was "maybe a little bit scared" of his Anfield team – prompted a broad smile on Ferguson's face as he prepared for United's Premier League trip to Sunderland.
Liverpool have reduced United's seven-point lead at the top of the table to just one point since winning 4-1 at Old Trafford on March 14 and the faltering form of Ferguson's team has reignited a title race that, a month ago, appeared to be a United procession.
But with Benitez criticising Ferguson's tactic of commenting on Liverpool's performances and prospects, the United manager has now responded once more by seemingly questioning the Spaniard's focus.
Ferguson said: "If you ask me a question about other teams, I'll give you an opinion. There's no fault in that.
"Arsene Wenger was talking about Manchester United a couple of weeks ago when he was asked a question and he gave a fair answer.
"But the interesting thing as far as Rafa Benitez is concerned is that he's got a European tie [against Chelsea] and he's talking about Alex Ferguson. Fantastic. I didn't know I was that important."
When asked whether he felt he had successfully "got under Benitez's skin", Ferguson grinned before replying: "I have no more comment to make."
Regardless of the outcome of Liverpool's Anfield encounter with Blackburn this lunchtime, United can end the day in top spot with a victory on Wearside.
But having watched Chelsea's impressive 3-1 success at Anfield, Ferguson risked another riposte from Benitez by claiming that Guus Hiddink's team are now the real threat to United's title hopes.
Ferguson said: "Chelsea will be absolutely buoyed up [by the victory at Liverpool]. You saw the celebrations at the end. They knew it was an emphatic result and they will be flying at the moment.
"That was a good performance by them. I remember when we won the treble in 1999 that just lifted everyone and from then on we were unbeatable.
"It does that to you when you get a very important result, but hopefully Chelsea are beatable. I'd be happy with the race going down to the last day, though. It would do me fine because we're used to that. We've done it four times."
Although Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans (both groin) will miss the Sunderland fixture, Ferguson insisted that Wayne Rooney will play after dismissing reports that the forward suffered a rib injury against Porto on Tuesday evening.
And despite United's recent run of just one victory in four games, Ferguson is confident that his players can ride the storm and deliver the title.
He said: "We've lost two league games to Liverpool and Fulham and people are saying we're cracking up. So what I think I have got to do now is to remind the players where we are at the moment.
"It doesn't matter what happened against Porto, we're still in the European Cup with a chance, we're still in the FA Cup semi-final with a chance, we're top of the league with a chance – so what more can I do but just remind the players why we got here? We're in a fantastic position."