Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has launched an astonishing attack on his Manchester United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson.
Anfield boss angered by Premier League title rival
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has launched an astonishing attack on Sir Alex Ferguson and has accused the Manchester United manager of attempting to start 'early' mind games in the Premier League title race.
Benitez takes his table-topping side to Stoke on Saturday looking to reinforce their position at the summit, but he has been angered by comments from Ferguson.
The Reds could move 10 points clear of third-placed United, who would enjoy the luxury of three games in hand, with victory at the Britannia Stadium but Ferguson has suggested that the Liverpool could choke under the pressure.
Ferguson's observation has caused an outburst from Benitez and the Spaniard has launched criticism of the Old Trafford boss, claiming he is the only manager to avoid punishment in the current Respect campaign.
Benitez said: "We had a meeting in Manchester with managers and the Football Association about the respect campaign.
"And I was very clear, forget the campaign because Mr Ferguson was killing the referees, killing Mr (Martin) Atkinson, killing Mr (Keith) Hackett.
"But I have seen some facts. On 1st November, they played Hull and Mr Ferguson had a two-match touchline ban and a £10,000 fine after confronting Mike Dean, the referee, for improper conduct.
"We started the Respect campaign, and that was when (Javier) Mascherano was sent off (last season) at Old Trafford.
"The referee (Steve Bennett) was the referee when they played against Wigan - he could not see the handball against Wigan by Rio Ferdinand, he did not give a penalty. They won the game and they won the title in this game.
"I think it will be the same referee who will be in charge of their game in hand this season (against Wigan).
"During the Respect campaign - and this is a fact - Mr Ferguson was charged by the FA for improper conduct after comments made about Martin Atkinson and Keith Hackett.
"He was not punished. He is the only manager in the league that cannot be punished for these things."
Benitez also feels that Ferguson's suggestion that Liverpool cannot handle the pressure at the top of the table is only an example of the Scot's infamous psychological tricks.
"I was surprised but I have to talk about facts," added Benitez. "I think that is important. I think they (United) are nervous because we are at the top of the table.
"I want to be clear. I don't want to play mind games too early and I think that they want to start."
And Benitez has also been angered by Ferguson's complaints about the English fixture list.
"Then he was talking about the fixtures," continued the former Valencia chief. "Two years ago we were playing a lot of early kick-offs away on Saturdays when United were playing on Sundays. And we didn't say anything.
"Now he is complaining about everything, that everybody is against United. But the second half of the season will see them playing at home against all the teams at the top of the table, it is a fantastic advantage.
"But at Christmas, United played on the 29th and the rest of the teams played on the 28th. We were away against Newcastle two days after playing Bolton. They were playing about 40 hours later, they were not complaining then.
"If he wants to talk about fixtures, and have a level playing field as you say in England. There are two options if we don't want more problems with fixtures.
"One is the same as in Spain, the draw for the first part of the league is known, everyone knows which weekend. In the second half everyone plays the opposite, so you all know.
"Sky have the right to choose their games and it will be the same for everyone. So Mr Ferguson will not be complaining about fixtures and a campaign against United.
"Or there is another option. That Mr Ferguson organises the fixtures in his office and sends it to us and everyone will know and cannot complain. That is simple."