Benitez fuels the feud with Ferguson

 

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE:RAFAEL BENITEZ has waded into another potential feud with Alex Ferguson by mischievously suggesting the Manchester United manager recognises “Liverpool are the better side”.

The Spaniard, whose verbal exchanges with Ferguson have become a regular feature in this season’s title race, also claimed the United manager thinks he has a “licence” to play mind games with his rivals because he makes his remarks without fear of being challenged.

“I’m not having a battle of words with Alex Ferguson,” Benitez said in an interview with his hometown newspaper, ABC. “But I believe that he can see that we are the better side, and that we are very close to United. He has been accustomed to playing these types of mind games for many years.

“Nobody has ever said anything against him, or stood up to him, as he has a very good team that can win trophies. It seems like he has a licence to do these sorts of things.”

The Liverpool manager, whose side trail United by three points and have played a game more, has emphasised how important it is for his players to continue to believe the Premier League title is not out of their reach despite Tuesday night’s 4-4 draw with Arsenal at Anfield.

“It is essential for us to try to keep the pressure on United,” Benitez added. “We must not slacken off, and if we keep going that will make them feel under pressure.”

United received some welcome news yesterday when it emerged that Wes Brown, who has not played since the end of January because of a foot injury, could be available for Tottenham’s visit tomorrow to ease a potential injury crisis.

Gary Neville and John O’Shea both limped off during the 2-0 victory over Portsmouth on Wednesday night and Ferguson anticipates that the duo will be forced to spend “the next few weeks” on the sidelines.

Brown reported no problems after coming through an hour of a reserve game at Preston North End on Monday and was last night set to have another outing for the second XI. Should he suffer no reaction, it is highly likely he will be drafted into the squad for the Spurs fixture.

“Wes is fine. He is training hard and should be okay for the weekend,” said the United assistant manager, Mike Phelan.

The outlook for Neville and O’Shea is less clear. O’Shea hurt his ankle following a late tackle by Nadir Belhadj and was due to be assessed by United’s medical staff yesterday, while Phelan admitted Neville was “struggling” after the full back took a blow on the inside of the foot that required stitches.

One consolation for Ferguson is Rio Ferdinand will be able to come back into the side after sitting out the Portsmouth match as a precaution following his recent return from a groin injury.

United’s win against Portsmouth was the third in succession in the Premier League following the back-to-back defeats that had threatened to derail their pursuit of an 18th league title.

The first of those victories came in dramatic fashion after the teenage substitute Federico Macheda scored an injury-time winner against Aston Villa, a goal Michael Carrick believes was crucial in shifting the title race momentum from Anfield to Old Trafford.

“Sometimes in a season you get a feeling that one moment is going to make all the difference,” said the England midfielder.

“Aston Villa was one of them. It was a huge win. We were losing and ended up with Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck up front. At that point people wouldn’t have given us much hope. Getting a victory that day gave a massive lift to everyone and since then things have gone pretty well.”

Carrick is refusing to get carried away with United’s lofty status but after Wednesday night’s victory over Portsmouth, few would be against the side going on to complete a record-equalling 18th league championship.

A week ago, Carrick knows Liverpool were being heavily tipped as potential champions. So, just because Benitez’s men have now slipped three points adrift of the United having played a game more, Carrick is refusing to take a title hat-trick for granted.

“We are only talking about one game,” he said. “In a lot of people’s eyes last week we were not going to win the title. All of a sudden the same people are now saying it is a given.

“There are a lot of matches to play and there may be more twists and turns.

“Hopefully there aren’t. Hopefully we win every game. But we can’t get too disappointed or too carried away with individual results.

“That is the attitude will see us through.”

“We have had a good couple of weeks,” said Carrick. “But it is win at all costs now. If we can now beat Tottenham we really will be in a good position.”

Manchester United's remaining fixtures

Saturday v Tottenham (H)

May 2nd v Middlesbrough (A)

May 10th v Manchester City (H)

May 13th v Wigan (A)

May 16th v Arsenal (H)

May 24th v Hull City (A)

Next up . . .

Saturday

Bolton Wanderers v Aston Villa; Everton v Manchester City;

Fulham v Stoke City; Hull City v Liverpool; Manchester Utd v Tottenham; West Brom v Sunderland; West Ham Utd v Chelsea.

Sunday

Arsenal v Middlesbrough; Blackburn Rovers v Wigan Athletic.

Monday

Newcastle Utd v Portsmouth.