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Mind Games Part 2

Jim D

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Rafael Benítez has accused Sir Alex Ferguson of being scared of his Liverpool side and talking "too much" about other teams.


Benítez, despite having the Champions League showdown with Chelsea tomorrow as his immediate objective, could not resist another swipe at the Manchester United manager as the Premier League race reaches boiling point.


The Spaniard was responding to claims from Ferguson that the winner of the Liverpool-Chelsea quarter-final would then be United's biggest challenger for the title because of the consequent momentum. "It is not mind games," said Benítez. "I think it maybe is that he is a little bit scared [of us]."


Liverpool took over at the top of the table on Saturday evening with a late winner from Yossi Benayoun at Fulham. But, less than 24 hours later, United produced a stunning comeback victory over Aston Villa with the decisive goal coming in the third minute of injury-time from the 17-year-old Federico Macheda. That grabbed the initiative back, but Benítez has come out fighting and rejected Ferguson's suggestion that the winner of the Chelsea tie will have an advantage in the title race.


"I do not have a problem with United," he said. "Clearly one of us, either Chelsea or us, will end up focusing just on the Premier League after this. I think Sir Alex will be supporting Liverpool in this tie because he knows we are the bigger [title] threat now.


"If we continue in the Champions League maybe he will think we are tired. If we are not in this competition then he knows that we will be a [bigger] threat in the Premier League. If Chelsea are not in the competition, then he knows they will then be a threat also in the league. But he will lose anyway, whoever goes out, because they will still be a big threat to United.


"You have to prepare well for every single Premier League game; it is tough [to be in the Champions League as well]. So he will clearly be supporting us tomorrow and next week. I would like to be worried about both competitions; it means we will continue to be successful. We just concentrate on our team, while he likes to talk too much about other teams."


Benítez claims he was unmoved by United's heroics against Villa, saying: "We knew there would be situations like this, with us one point ahead, or one point behind. And everyone knows five minutes [of injury time] at Old Trafford is a very long time.


"I watched the game, but once United scored their second you felt they would win the game. He [Ferguson] is in the driving seat now and in a better position, but there is still a long way to go and we have confidence. We are pushing them and we will push them until the end."


But before Liverpool can lock horns again with United, they must face a Chelsea side who knocked them out of this competition in the semi-final last season. A John Arne Riise own goal in the first-leg at Anfield ultimately did the trick, Chelsea winning 4-3 on aggregate after the second leg at Stamford Bridge.


Benítez said: "It is not a good time for either of us to be playing the other. It is a big challenge for both teams. They have a good team with experience and a manager with experience. This game is 50–50. I have great respect for a massive club and a very good team. We are both playing in big competitions. We are both big teams."


Steven Gerrard is fit following a minor groin problem and Sami Hyypia (knee) and Yossi Benayoun (hamstring) are also available for the first leg, giving the Liverpool manager added optimism for the trip to Stamford Bridge.


"We have beaten them twice this season in the league, it will give us confidence, but this is a different competition and it will be down to just one or two mistakes," Benítez said. "Keeping a clean sheet is important in the first game for both teams. I would prefer to play at Anfield second, but that is not the case so we must get on with it."

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