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Ferguson takes first round of long campaign

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Phil McNulty | 08:23 UK time, Monday, 12 January 2009

If Sir Alex Ferguson had mapped out his weekend on a sheet of A4 paper - in vogue after Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez used one as a prop to aid an attack on his Manchester United counterpart - it would have turned out exactly as his script decreed.

In Ferguson's ideal world Liverpool would have lost at Stoke City rather than earning a point, but other than that it was just about perfect from both a psychological and footballing perspective.

The 67-year-old Scot almost skipped down the Old Trafford touchline at the conclusion of a comprehensive 3-0 dismissal of Chelsea, perhaps mentally ticking off a list of jobs well done to set himself up for the crucial battles ahead.

United had shot a hole in Chelsea's title aspirations, exposing Luiz Felipe's Scolari's side as currently suffering from a chronic lack of imagination - and even more worryingly suddenly looking susceptible to the most routine cross ball.


Ferguson's side were now back in control of their own title destiny, five points behind Liverpool but with two crucial games in hand.

And Jose Mourinho had been in close attendance in the Old Trafford directors' box to watch United impress, leaving for Italy to digest a healthy portion of food for thought ahead of his Champions League meeting with his old adversary Sir Alex.

Last - but most definitely not least - he had given the lie to Benitez's reckless assertion, in among a host of other charges, that United were "a little bit scared" to see Liverpool at the top of the league.

The manner of United's victory would not have made comfortable viewing for Benitez, and it might have hurt even more that there was almost a tone of sympathy for the Spaniard in Sir Alex Ferguson's voice as he delivered his rebuttal of the accusations made against him.

"I think he was an angry man. He was disturbed for some reason or another," said Ferguson in the bowels of Old Trafford post-victory.

What could Sir Alex possibly mean? Was it Benitez's still unsigned Anfield contract? Who knows?

It was a measured, calm Ferguson. The sort of Ferguson who knows he has just won the first round of what could be a long campaign of psychological warfare.

Ferguson is never more stoked up than when Liverpool are in his sights. It also gets the juices flowing in United's occasionally dormant followers. Old Trafford is even adorned with a "European Capital Of Trophies" banner these days, a playful (!) dig at Liverpool's recent cultural status.

One thing is certain, however, Benitez will not go quietly. I sat just a few feet away from him at Stoke on Saturday, where he was as strong in his conviction about Ferguson as he had been a day earlier.

This was no hit-and-run attack by Benitez. He will be happy to stand toe-to-toe with Ferguson for the full 12 rounds.

And United must guard against being sucked into thinking Benitez is anything other than totally convinced Liverpool can reclaim the title, despite a clear shift in momentum this weekend.

Benitez has called Ferguson and United on in the most public manner and never shirks a fight.

Just ask his previous employers at Valencia and his paymasters at Anfield, but he may just be forced to regroup slightly after United's show of force against Chelsea.

My own view is that Benitez would have been wiser to keep counsel, no matter how strong his arguments against Ferguson were. The atmosphere around Old Trafford had an extra edge on Sunday because of his attack, and it worked in United's favour.

If Benitez wanted to provoke a reaction, it was not the one he desired. United's response, and the fevered reaction to it around the stadium, was predictable.

They did not have to be at their best to beat a Chelsea side who were desperately disappointing after Nemanja Vidic gave United the lead in first half stoppage time.

Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov completed the formalities as they took advantage of the sort of slack Chelsea defending that would have had the watching "Special One" weeping into his expensive sweater.

United still have room for improvement, a fact that will warm Ferguson's heart.

Dimitar Berbatov covered up a largely innocuous display with his late goal and United are still not flowing as freely as they can. This may, however, be regarded as an ominous sign if Chelsea are put away so comfortably without United unveiling their full range of weapons.

Scolari delivered a passionate defence of his players, plus an honest assessment of Chelsea's current unsatisfactory plight, with his usual charm in his post-match inquest.

But the Brazilian has troubles and he needs to find answers before the huge hope and expectation of Chelsea's pre-season is replaced by worries for their future direction.

Chelsea have no width if their full-backs are cancelled out. If this particular Plan A fails, Scolari does not appear to have an alternative up his sleeve, especially as Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba looked ill-at-ease and poorly matched in their 45 minutes alongside each other in attack.

It was the new deficiencies that may worry Scolari even more.

If Chelsea faltered in attack, they could at least rely on the iron discipline and resolve of their rearguard, built around the twin towers of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.

They were re-united yesterday, but were powerless to stop United scoring three goals from balls delivered from wide. A corner, a cross and a free-kick were defended abominably and Chelsea suffered.

Chelsea is not a club known for its patience - just ask Avram Grant.

And while it would be ludicrous to ask questions about Scolari's position so early in his reign, displays like this against a team they took to a penalty shoot-out in the Champions League not so long ago will not be well received by the Stamford Bridge power-brokers.

The weekend, however, was about Ferguson. He was the big winner as he delivered blows on his closest rivals at Liverpool and Chelsea, while also finding time to unsettle Inter Milan's charismatic leader.

It is the sort of scrap football's most battle-hardened street-fighter loves. And you could see he was already preparing for the next round of hostilities as he marched from the dug-out in triumph.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Chelsea were shocking, and they have been for weeks. If they don't pick themselves up shortley they could find themselves battling with a very in form Villa for 3rd! Awful, awful display.

  • Comment number 2.

    Fafa's rant worked in united's favour. The ref was so scared, he started giving all decisions in united favour. I man 5 yellows for Chelsea and only 3 for United? FSW rafa should ask for an enquiry..

  • Comment number 3.

    Regarding: "And United must guard against being sucked into thinking Benitez is anything other than totally convinced Liverpool can reclaim the title, despite a clear shift in momentum this weekend."

    In case nobody has noticed the 'shift in momentum' started long before this weekend. Liverpool have won 3 and drawn 5 of their last 8 matches. 4 of those draws they were expected to win. That's 14 points out of 24.

    Utd. have won 6 and drawn 2 of their last 8 (20 points from 24) and the draws away to Spurs and Villa were in relatively difficult games.

    That is now what can reasonably be called a trend. The momentum is all with Utd.

    Benitez may be convined that Liverpool can win the title but not many others are.

  • Comment number 4.

    Chelsea were shocking, and they have been for weeks. If they don't pick themselves up shortly they could find themselves battling with a very in form Villa for 3rd! Awful, awful display.

  • Comment number 5.

    Easy win for Man Utd yesterday, Chelsea just simply werent at the races. i can see chelsea turing it around still, there is too much quality in their squad for the current bad form to continue for too long.

    As for Benitez's so called rant, i cant see how him pointing out things that a blatanly obvious to everyone (fergie's hold over refs and the FA) in a calm manner to the press can be seen as a rant. Good on him to have the guts to come out and say it. I also think its daft that as soon as Fergie comes out and has a pop at a rival manager that the press straight away say that Fergie is up to his 'mind games' whereas as soon as the other manager gives his view/response then the press say that he has 'lost it' and that fergie has won the battle of the mind games. what a load of rubbish.

    and by the way, as my username suggests i am not a liverpool fan

  • Comment number 6.

    The effect of Benitez' attack on Mr. Ferguson shouldn't be overestimated. Chelsea were simply awful. United themselves looked short on ideas for much of the game. Even if they win both games in hand, they are one point ahead of Liverpool. Which is nothing. This one will go to the wire.

  • Comment number 7.

    where has rafa been this season, did he not see the charges against unite, ie evra for one, and the touchline ban and the warning of fergies future conduct.

    Rafa is just trying to swing something in his favor by intimidating the FA and referees.

    There is no way Liverpool are going to win the league anyway not with ordinary players.

    Take gerrard out of the team and they are mid table at best.

  • Comment number 8.

    Definitely advantage Fergie. Its alway hard to win 3 titles in a row (even fergie has only done it once) as players get complacent and the opposition really want to stop you. And at the start of the season it looked very hard for United with their poor away form, chelsea revitalised and Liverpool looking a far more serious preposition.

    However, since losing to Arsenal, United have knuckled down and ground out results. Chelsea and Liverpool both started dropping points and the turning point was probably when they went to Japan and both of their rivals failed to win.

    Chelsea have been on the slide ever since, Liverpool got it together over christmas but then the Gerrard arrest happened, followed now by Rafa's outburst and the dropped points at Stoke. Meanwhile, United have been quietly racking up the points and then annouced themselves as championship favourites yesterday by blowing chelsea off the park. After the unrest of Ronaldo and Tevez and the indifferent start by Berbatov, Rafa may have given United something to focus on.

    There is a long way to go but the momentum has definitely swung....

  • Comment number 9.

    One other point - did chelsea take Rafa's advice on the zonal marking? If so it didn't do them much good!

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    A lot of the previous comments both for and against Rafa and the famous rant can be said to be true. However, 3-0, Chelsea played off the park and it could have been 5 or 6. Utd not fireing on all cylinders.No dodgy refs decisions other than a couple of goals for Utd disallowed. Liverpool to come to Old Trafford. How often do the bookies get it wrong - United are firm favourites with them all. Look at Fergie's demeanour after the game - he was almost sorry for Rafa - maybe the no contract decision at Anfield is getting to him more than people think. Ask yourself why the contract has not been sorted - is Rafa not going to get one? Are the owners fed up with him? What about the new stadium? Is there unrest behind the scenes? Who knows. Prediction United will win the league and Liverpool may finish ahead of Chelsea as runners up. But it will be interesting for a few more weeks whilst United get their fixture pile up sorted out but it could be that they have a six point lead by early March with Liverpool then due at Old Trafford.

  • Comment number 12.

    im glad to see people talking some sense on here for a change. im disapointed we didnt get a win from a game that most people thought would be relatively easy but as arsenal and villa have found out the britania is a tricky place to go. as for the recent draws against the likes of west ham etc last year we maybe would have lost those games and worst case scenario united win two games and go one point ahead of us. with torres and skrtel back and with fixtures coming thick and fast for united im relatively optimistic. we just have to learn how to see off the lesser teams with that ruthless edge that has been lacking from all the big three(sorry arsenal) berbatov has four league goals and rooney has sure with that kind of clinical finishing theyre not the dead certs everyone is making out. good blog phil, keep it up

  • Comment number 13.

    Good article Phil, I agree with most of that.

    I think that Rafa's comments on friday were wrong, both factually, and as a sky pundit put it, did sir alex's team talk for him.

    With regards to his comments, he complains about man utd getting the ref's decisions with reference to the amount of red's we get in our favour, despite that the only red we have had at OT this season was Pogatez's tuggish fould on possebon and Liverpool have had 2 at Anfield (and one of those was vidic!)

    Him moaning about fixtures, they may play more morning fixtures but we play more evening, and monday games, and with more midweek games now, does it make a difference overall?

    As a previous post said, the form is with man utd and with the best home record in the league and most of the games now coming at home the force is now with us!

  • Comment number 14.

    the problem for Liverpool is that they have a tendency to drop more points than United do, so having United in front by even a single point is a big disadvantage. I can see the game against Man United at Old Trafford being absolutely massive now!

  • Comment number 15.


    This clearly was an inept performance from a Chelsea currently looking like it has reached the end of the road.

    But what do you think about United's approach to these big games at Old Trafford? I have noticed for a few years now that United approach these games as though they are the underdogs. The crowd is fired up and United's players charge around for 90 mins as every tackle gets a massive cheer.

    You mention yourself that United didn't play at their best and this is often the case with this approach. I don't remember the last time i watched one of these games at Old Trafford and came away thinking 'what a brilliant footballing display from United'.

    I am surprised Chelsea didn't see this coming. The first thing you have to do in this instance is match them for effort and determination.

  • Comment number 16.

    The league is over.

    Liverpool just aren't good enough and Benitez is useless, except in cup competitions. If Torres and Gerrard fail, so do Liverpool, particularly without Alonso against Stoke.

    Chelsea have no width and don't play a proper formation. Will Scolari learn that the goals against them came from wide positions. So, er, having plays on the wings is useful then. When Chelsea did win the league they had Robben and Joe Cole out wide.

    Man Utd, without even looking their best, seem like they are going to go top. The relegation battle is what interests me, and maybe Villa for 4th!

  • Comment number 17.

    Ah Philtoon, your user name may suggest that you are not a Liverpool fan but may also suggest you have a bias against Ferguson for previous battles all those years ago......

  • Comment number 18.

    "The effect of Benitez' attack on Mr. Ferguson shouldn't be overestimated. Chelsea were simply awful. United themselves looked short on ideas for much of the game. Even if they win both games in hand, they are one point ahead of Liverpool. Which is nothing. This one will go to the wire."

    Good point, there is nothing in it still and too early to say that the league is won or lost. I feel that Liverpool and Benitez (mr benitez) just got unlucky with the results this week and that liverpool are still a great team and will come back next week stronger than ever. They have experience of being the underdogs, learned from their time in europe. Manu on the other hand might be 1 point ahead but have soo many games that if they lose momentum (say a draw at home) at any point then they could lose points for several weeks before they get a real chance to come back. only a point in it. let the season unfold

  • Comment number 19.

    Chelsea again proved that they have minimal invention to create chances. We all knew Deco for his ability to carve open defences with a through ball, has he done it once this season?
    We all know Drogba for hassling and putting the centre-backs under pressure, but a fairly inexperienced young player in Evans made him look mediocre at best.
    Chelsea played right down the throats of United, due to their lack of width. All United's goals came from wide areas. Maybe Scolari is missing something but it is plainly obvious that they need natural wide players ie Drop 2 of the centre midfielders, preferably Ballack and Deco.

  • Comment number 20.

    wezhenshaw - fans like you crack me up because you know nothing about Liverpool and nothing about football. Mid-table at best, ha ha ha ha... classic!

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    As for Benitez's so called rant, i cant see how him pointing out things that a blatanly obvious to everyone (fergie's hold over refs and the FA) in a calm manner to the press can be seen as a rant. Good on him to have the guts to come out and say it. I also think its daft that as soon as Fergie comes out and has a pop at a rival manager that the press straight away say that Fergie is up to his 'mind games' whereas as soon as the other manager gives his view/response then the press say that he has 'lost it' and that fergie has won the battle of the mind games. what a load of rubbish.


    Spot-on couldn't agree more with all the points you raise here.

    Fergie has to resort to name calling and it's round 1 to Fergie. Only time will tell if Rafa's comments have any effect or not - the next time Rooney stamps on someone or swearing at the officials (though he got away with that again last night) I wouldn't be surprised if a few other managers jump on this particular bandwagon in the weeks to come - we all know how the media love to stir it up on the back pages as well.

    So MU beat a very poor Chelsea there's a long way to go yet.

  • Comment number 23.

    Many commentators argued prior to the Stoke match that Benitez's statement was carefully calculated, you have to wonder now what benefit Benitez though he could gain from it. On Sunday United had two goals and a penalty incorrectly chalked off however it is hard to believe any of these decisions came as a result of his statement. Furthermore in making his statement prior to an away fixture at Stoke which has prooven tough for the other top teams, he put unnecassary pressure on his own players to deliver.

    In Spain Benitez was willing to stand his ground behind closed doors but stayed quiet on the whole in press conferences, you have to fell that was a better and clearly more fruitful approach for him. In the press conference prior to last years Champions League semi-final second leg Benitez accused Drogba of diving. Up until that point Drogba's form had been poor however Drogba took exception to the comment, apparently he had a picture of Benitez on his locker all week he went out and played a blinder.

    The situation is now out of Benitez's hands until a week today, brash statements only have a positive effective if they are back by the players actions on the pitch. Ferguson therfore has the opportunity to place United on top of the league by 5 p.m. Saturday. If United can do that then Benitez will know that his team must win the Merseyside derby to return to the summit of the premiership.

    How exactly Benitez expected upping the ante in the title race would help is unclear. Manchester United have won the last two leagues and have players like Giggs with 10 league medal's in their cabinet. In contrast Liverpool have only three players who have won any league medals. While Ferguson's moans about the early fixture list were aimed at taking the pressure off his own squad, Benitez's rant has achieved the opposite result and he may well pay dearly for it.

  • Comment number 24.

    liverpool are useless without torres and gerrard......... liverpool 2-1 united.......... ignorance is bliss

  • Comment number 25.


    refering to my earlier post, only 2 players from liverpool would get a place at either chelsea or man u, i think you know who!!

  • Comment number 26.

    To NIreland1-0England

    .....And your user name suggests that you live in Northern Ireland, so i'm guessing your probably a Man Utd fan then eh?

  • Comment number 27.

    Another Good Article Mr McNulty,

    Altho Chelsea looked a lil lackluster yesterday and many people say that it was more a case of that than Man Utd playing very well, i say, take nothing away from United, they produced a magnificent display, with arguably their 2nd choice midfirlders on, the hard workers that just stifled the Chelsea attack and creativity whilst also being very productive and positive going forward on their own merit?!
    Their (or should I say Fergie's) gameplan was played out to perfection, let Chelsea have the ball and play it around, but get numbers in behind and close them out in the Final 3rd, ready to hit them on the break, thus making Chelsea look distinctly average at times?!
    Chelsea lookd really lacking in the light of no good wide men play, when Utd managed to stop the full backs rarely getting into the Und half/Final 3rd?!

    One thing I dont agree on tho............ is on the subject of John Terry
    "If Chelsea faltered in attack, they could at least rely on the iron discipline and resolve of their rearguard, built around the twin towers of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho."
    I thought that Terry was absolutely awful, for me, he was at fault for two of the goals, he was just caught standing around in no mans land, seemingly doing nothing?! I mean come on, this "Tower", ducking out of a header, only for Rooney to stick it in the net?! Very Very poor yesterday?! not even close to geting a 5 out of 10 in my book!!!
    Even for me, the actual better Defender of the two, not even that I really rate him either, Carvalho - he was rather poor?!

  • Comment number 28.

    i personally think in attracting the media to his 'war of words' with fergie benitez was trying to relieve the pressure of intense media attention from his players, now if we drop points people are saying its benitez' fault. not the players. maybe this will enable them to get on with the job at hand for the next 4 months

  • Comment number 29.

    First Blood to Sir Alex.
    This is turning into a great title race.

  • Comment number 30.

    Having watched the game, I find our beautiful game is in a dire state. It is becoming increasing tedious to watch £100k a week players diving around and killing the sport.

    Both teams are supposed to be at the pinnacle of the best league in the world. Not a good advert for the premiership at all!

    There were eight bookings in the game. I did not see one tackle that warranted a yellow card. Was there any difference in Ronaldo’s tackle on Lampard than Lampards on Ronaldo’s in the first 5 minutes? The only difference is that Ronaldo rolls around, it is embarrassing.

    If a player is seen to be diving and it is not spotted by the ref then a yellow card should given after the game. The referees get a hard time and this is due to them being constantly conned by diving players. Action is needed before it kills the game.

  • Comment number 31.

    Yes it was 5 yellow for Chelsea and 3 for Man Utd but no-one could honestly claim Man Utd were favoured by the ref - Ronaldo had 2 perfectly good goals ruled out (one at the corner for ??? and one for offside when he timed a run perfectly), and had a blatant penalty not given - Carvalho then got in his face and Ronaldo got booked ... but what for I could not tell - he didn't particularly react, it was all Carvalho. Some of the tackles Chelsea players were booked for were just awful - Belletti could have been booked for his first scythe at Ronaldo, and when that had not succeeded, the second tackle was dreadful - good to see Ronaldo not reacting to all the heavy tackles he endured, but coming back for more and making Chelsea pay where it matters - on the score sheet - with a wonderful cross. Where do Chelsea go from here? Scolari has some job on his hands at the moment (though should they lose at Southend, he might find he has time on his hands instead ....)

  • Comment number 32.

    people seem to forget despite united being a point above liverpool if they win there two games away they've also really only have two challenging games left to play in the league and both of those are at home.

    Livepool will need to beat united at Old Trafford, hope Arsenal can do the same then hope they have a blip the size of taking two points from the like of stoke to have any hope of united retaining the trophy.

    If gerrard loses form or is out for a decent few weeks they have no chance. scousers also don't have a decent squad whereas players like Park and Giggs who have been peripheral so far can come in for big games like the weekend and united can still win. united also have cover for injuries as testified by evans and o'shea yesterday - it could also be argued that gary neville is hardly in the form of his life, Ronaldo also hasn't hit the heights of last season.

    you could therefore say it was as good a time to play united as it was to play chelsea. That United won so convincingly should be a massive worry for benitez if i were him i'd just shut up, comments like

    "He is talking too much about Liverpool. He has to think about his own team, the problems they have and all the things they are doing"

    are just idiotic. surely benitez should take some of his own advice. the media are clearly hyping this up. the liverpool players must read the rags, whether benitez is scared or not isn't the matter - by constantly talking about united he looks like he is - their is ever only going to be one winner - Fergie is too clever - he clearly has waited till he's easily won round one and then very calculattingly labeled benitez "disturbed". whatever happens next you can be sure that to fergie it will be water of a ducks back - I wouldn't be surprised if benitez keeps it up either - scripted snippets on either united or fergie only do one team any good and that's the team down the otherside of the east lancs road!

  • Comment number 33.

    wezhenshaw you clearly lack even the most fundamental understanding of the beautiful game. reina has won 3 consecutive golden glove awards. FACT. chelsea have yet to win a chamions league. FACT. now that abramovich has decide to cut the purse strings chelsea are out of ideas. and yes united are a fantastic team with real quality but if your telling me that john o shea and darren fletcher are better than alonso/mascherano then you have issues that may need to be addressed by a gentleman in a white overcoat!!!!

  • Comment number 34.

    Fair response, and everyone says the same thing... vice versa on the players in squads but this is down to the managers. Blackburn won the PL with only two decent strikers and a winning mentality... so you could say it doesn't matter who plays, as long as you still win. I will not be convinced we'll win it until Gerrard actually lifts the crown at the end of the season, but we won against Man U without those two players...

    What Desolation_row has put may well be true, and it concerns me we may well pay for what Rafa has said; although this will have pleased some people, it could have been the reason we played so poorly Saturday, and the reality is United have the advantage and if top on Saturday, the pressure in the derby will be even worse!

  • Comment number 35.

    No word from MrBlueBurns as yet.
    No complaints with Phil's blog for a change - or was it because of that "quiet confidence" you spoke of in your last post?

  • Comment number 36.

    philtoon you just had me in stitches lol. typical of 'fans' in n.ireland, glory hunters in the extreme.......

  • Comment number 37.

    United fans have quietly sat back up until now in the knowledge that we had some tough away games while others were boasting about their position. It is now beginning to fall into place for United. As many experts said, you win nothing by Christmas. I definately feel a shift in momentum towards United.
    Yesterday, we were poor in the first half but in the second half we were brilliant and competed for every ball. Plus another clean sheet- thats 8 in a row in the league now and that is without our best defender in Rio.
    In reference to Rafas rant, I don't think he can complain as there have been many decisions that have gone in Liverpool's favour this season such as Cahill, Valencia and Adebayor's sending off. Furthermore, not many penalties are given at Anfield either.
    A sensible person will realise that it is all swings and roundabouts and over the course of the season these decisions get evened out. Only those that are under pressure would resort to rants like Rafas.
    I am not dismissing Liverpool but United have been there, done it and got the t-shirt and will be able to cope with the pressure.
    I still feel that Chelsea will come back into it at some point as they still have the quality in their squad.

  • Comment number 38.

    Dear Mr. McNulty,

    Your comment

    " My own view is that Benitez would have been wiser to keep counsel, no matter how strong his arguments against Ferguson were. "

    Mr Benitez`s facts are completely contradictory and not "strong" at all


    "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.


    and secondy


    But I have seen some facts. On November 1, 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.


    Strange that he Sir Alex cannot be punished but has a fine and a two match suspension

    Little bit confused Mr Benitez ??

    Pressure getting to you ??

    Well which is it

    He can`t be punished or he was fined and

  • Comment number 39.

    Decent enough article. Interesting that many have now written off Chelsea after their woeful performance. I wouldn't just yet. Utd have put destiny in their hands again. However, if this yrs premiership is telling us anything, then it is that most away games that the "top 4" took for granted in yrs gone by are no longer a gimme. Refreshingly so, too. I predict more "upsets" from now until May.

    As for rantinez, his paella probably didn't sit too well with him on Sunday and Fergie probably sent him a bottle of red to help it go down easier.

  • Comment number 40.

    samwell 2804: i think phil was trying to say that in previous times the back two were solid but that is no longer the case. 'but even they were powerless to resist' he clearly accepted that they performed well under par as the reference to 3 goals from wide play(2 from set pieces) suggests.

  • Comment number 41.

    Man Utd have not even played well this season and they are right up there. Their squad is better, they have played all of their most difficult fixtures, and they have more "winners" in their team than Liverpool or Chelsea. FACT, NOT OPINION.

    United are favourites for a very good reason. If they start playing well they will run away with it by about 6 or 7 points. If they continue their current form they will still be in with a very good shout.

    Lets be honest. Rafa does not look like he enjoys these "mind games". He appeared under pressure. Jose loved them, Wenger can play ball now and again...but Rafa is just funny. Fergie is just lauging at him!

  • Comment number 42.

    The great thing is that for the first time in years you have England's two real heavyweights slugging it out.

    Chelsea will come and go (just wait to Roman moves on). No disrespect to Arsenal, but they are the No. 3 club.

    Can Utd draw level with 18 or will Liverpool re-establish themselves as the pre-eminant football club.

    European cups:
    Liverpool 5
    Utd 3
    Arsenal 0
    Chelsea 0

    League titles:
    Liverpool 18
    Utd 17
    Arsenal 13
    Chelsea 3

    Note other league winners; Everton (9), Villa (7), Sunderland! (6), Newcastle (4), Wednesday (4)

  • Comment number 43.

    Anfield Sean- still living off that win then?
    Just like a small club would cherish their win over United as it does not happen often-

    Here are the results of rafas league games against United prior t your win in September

    United 3-0 Liverpool
    United 1-0 Liverpool
    United 1-0 Liverpool
    United 2-0 Liverpool
    United 0-0 Liverpool
    United 1-0 Liverpool
    United 2-1 Liverpool

    Fergie 6 Rafa 1!

  • Comment number 44.

    Scotland one - Spain nil.

    Good artcile.

    Everyone is talking United, Liverpool, Chelsea. I've not ruled out Arsenal (or even Villa yet!) they are both only three points behind Chelsea. This is a very open race in a very open season.

  • Comment number 45.

    Well done Phil. You have hoards of Man Utd fans queuing up to congratulate you.

    Benitez merely verbalised what everyone other than Man Utd supporters knows to be true. We know that Ferusson pretty much has carte blanche to do and say as he pleases. Ask Keith Hackett.

    With David Gill pulling the strings at the upper echelons of the governing body Fergusson can carry on doing what he does best. Intimidating officials to gain unfair advantage.

    While you and your like continue to worship the ground on which alex fergusson stands Utd will continue to receive unnecessary favour.

    It does football in general no good at all.

  • Comment number 46.

    In reply to post 15 - good point on United's performances in games such as this.

    Ferguson has always been the master of creating the siege mentality. He did it at Aberdeen when he toppled the Old Firm's domination.

    I have watched United games against Arsenal in the past that have had the same feel about them as Sunday's game.

    There was a definite sense inside Old Trafford that the words of Benitez had created that extra edge among the crowd.

    They wanted their team to respond to Benitez's charges - and maybe the team did as well.

    For a crowd that has been labelled "The Prawn Sandwich Brigade" in the past, they were loud, animated and passionate.

    Off the Ferguson agenda for a second, let's hear from Chelsea fans about what you thought of your team's performance and what Scolari must do to arrest any potential slide.

  • Comment number 47.

    From the master of the obvious; BigOhGee:

    "the problem for Liverpool is that they have a tendency to drop more points than United do"

    So that's why Liverpool never win the league!

  • Comment number 48.

    Taking Rafa's rant out of the equation, the very fact that Liverpool played only one (considerably goal-shy workhorse-like) striker in Dirk Kuyt against a struggling promoted team like Stoke tells you exactly why many think Liverpool won't win the title. They are too cautious and don't have enough quality in the squad to rest players and still put away even the Premier Leagues poorest teams, like Stoke. To win titles you have to go away from home and take a chance to win the game - it's better to win two and lose one than win one and draw two!

    And on the subject of Rafa's rant, while i accept that Fergie does have a knack of intimidating referees on the odd occasion, i think it's a bit strong to make out it's a huge conspiracy. And it's always been the same, established and respected figures in the game hold more sway in the intimidation department... Are you telling me that John Terry having a word in the refs ear isn't going to have more effect than Johnny Evans? And what was Rafa's aim in making his speech? To get a reaction from refs to hinder Man Utd... it hardly gives him the high ground does it?

    And to say Man Utd get away with anything is pretty strong after Evra got banned for 3 matches for a pretty restrained bit of handbags having been racially abused!?

  • Comment number 49.

    this is exactly why Fergie is arguably the best manager ever. He is just better than every other manager at everything... the guy is awesome!

    Rafa should have known better than to get involved - his comments would have been posted on the utd dressing room and fergie would have given it the old "we are proud champions, everyone is out to get us, we need to fight" speech that he has used 100 times before with Keegan, Wenger or whoevers names used instead of Rafa.... whilst i don't think Rafa was wrong in what he said - he has simply given the master yet another piece of motivation fuel!...

    and as for chelsea being awful - they were... but utd still played VERY well and on a man for man basis every utd player won their personal battle on the day... including the tactical battle of the managers.

    Utd, even without a genuine goalscoring striker (i.e Andy Cole) are looking stronger than ever - and their main challengers (Chelsea and Arsenal) are looking as poor as they have for years... and as for Liverpool.... if anyone wants to bet me any amount of money that they will win the league i will take the bet on with them - as they won't!... but they will have their best season ever and maybe still be in the race come March....

  • Comment number 50.

    Hi Phil

    It was a bad weekend all round as a Liverpool supporter. I think first and foremost we need to look at our own performance, which was by far and away the worst of the season. We looked void of any creativity as Gerrard had a quiet night and Lucas, (who replaced Alonso) who was dreadful and offers us no imagination whatsoever going forward.

    I feel we also missed Agger's ability to bring the ball out of defense which creates space for those in the midfield. OK Skrtel came in and played well and we kept a clean sheet which im sure in Benitez's mind is job well done but we certainly missed something without Agger or Alonso. I thought Gerrard worked extremely hard to find space but it was often the case that we didnt have anyone with the ability to pick him out, which Alonso has done so well this season

    Also when Torres came on we didn't make 1 chance for him in half an hour. We needed to change tactics as well as personel. You would never see United draw 0-0 in what can be best described as a whimper! I find it pathetic how we have played Stoke home and away and have failed to score. They might be hard to play against admittedly but this Liverpool side is meant to be really going hammer and tong for this title and the impression i got was we would rather of got a 0-0 than take a chance at victory but risk a defeat. This is not the approach which has seen United win so many titles in the past and i really don't think this negative attitude will win us the title.

    As for Benitez's rant, I personally would have kept my mouth shut and used it as inspiration for my players but i don't mind what he has done. If anything what it could do is play on the referee's minds and 1 or 2 decisions could go against United (as shocking as that may be!) But lets be honest Benitez has just said what people up and down the country have been saying about Fergie and United for many a year and for that alone he deserves some credit!

  • Comment number 51.

    Opinion seems to be equally divided over whether Rafa has exploded with a Keegan-style rant or stood up to the bully that is Ferguson by publicly stating what many have believed for some time.
    Personally, I believe the latter is true.
    Momentum from the original Keegan outburst has gathered to such an extent that Fergie is seen as some kind of psychological master, while in reality he is nothing of the sort. Mourinho, for one had his measure, and Wenger has given as good as gets over the years.
    Fergie is more or less seemingly allowed to say what he likes about anyone and everyone, while any retort is seen as the perpetrator having 'lost it'.
    Of course, given the weekends respective results it is easy to conclude that the furore has tipped the balance towards united, but
    in reality Liverpool took a point from a difficult away game against a very resilient Stoke team (who took a point at Anfield and beat Arsenal) while United feasted on a very poor and disjointed Chelsea.
    I also believe that the Wigan match on wednesday will pose a much sterner test for United than chelsea did yesterday.

  • Comment number 52.

    Ferguson does get touchline bans (the most recent in November), so how can Benitez claim he is untouchable? I thought he was dealing in 'facts'. Also Benitez's self-styled role as the knight-in-shining-armour crusader for 'Respect' in football, is a bit rich given the fact he petulantly hits out at referees as much as the next man (i.e claiming the referee was bias when Liverpool drew 1-1 in the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea last year). Every week managers criticise poor decisions, not just Ferguson.

    The irony of it all was fantastic. Benitez accuses Ferguson of being obsessed about Liverpool (all he did was answer a question at a press conference!!) and then pulls out his A4 dossier on his United counterpart. His rant was about lack of respect to officials and yet clearly this was Benitez's attempt to influence the referee for Sundays match against Chelsea.

    Don't write Chelsea off though. They looked short of ideas on Sunday but they are just four points from top-spot.

  • Comment number 53.

    Those coming from a mediterranean background like me can see another side to the Rafa rant.

    In leagues like Spain and Italy, the referees of a game are as much the talking point as the players, if not more. Sometimes not without reason (see Calciopoli).

    Rafa comes from a background where putting pressure to referees is a science and also putting your team's misfortunes down to referees is the easy decision.

    His rant has paid off for this weekend: a good goal for Utd disallowed, a clear cut penalty given as offensive foul, borderline offside decisions given to Chelsea. Oppose that with a yellow to Rooney that wasn't given and one can see decisions went mainly Chelsea's way, with every situation where the ref had grounds for doubt going to the away team.

    The one thing that makes the PL superior to other leagues is that we don't spend vast amounts of time, with special shows, looking at refs decisions. The players are the stars - as it should be.

    For Rafa to say that all the wrongs of the league ar Ferguson's behaviour and perceived lack of punishment is to take attention away from the game itself and the real qualities of the title contenders. No team wins 10 PL titles without merit and every one of the big 4 gets some decisions going their way - Carragher admitted so himself on Sky.

    Rather than focussing on responding on his player's merits in handling pressure, that were the subject under question, Rafa preferred to play the revolutionary, that sees conspiracies everywhere and revert to personal attacks. Good luck to him, on the evidence of just one game (not so much but on an important weekend) he did lose the first round. Personally, I do not like his tactics and I'm not convinced it will pay off. Teams with the 'ref hunted' syndrome tend to self destruct, at least where I come from. We'll see how this one pans out but imho Liverpool don't need a rebel on the helm, they need a leader to inspire the players out of their title draught feeding their self belief. Rafa, doesn't look the part on the latest evidence

  • Comment number 54.

    'Facts' seems to be the key word in the Rafa-Fergie saga. Alex Ferguson stated a fact when he said that the current Liverpool team hadn't experienced the heat of the title run-in in recent years. They just havn't been in contention. It was a fair point but made not without a little mischief in mind! But this was only the first 'fishing trip' for Sir Alex as we approach the business end of the season. He wouldn't have expected his comments to have any impact or to solicit a response. Imagine his delight when his mildest of comments caused Rafa to expose his psyche to the full glare of the media. I don't think it's what Rafa said that matters, more the fact that he went to so much trouble and preperation to make his point. Why bother? The answer is of course that Alex Ferguson has got under Rafa's skin and clearly upset him. Alex Ferguson now know's that and will use it for the rest of the season. The best way to play Fergie is to ignore him and deny him the amunition he uses so well. What is it they say? Ignorance is Bliss??!!

  • Comment number 55.

    Even as a utd fan, i think the benitez's 'rant' was blown out of proportion. I like the way SAF responded with barely a few words, justifying its insignificance.

    Linekar has really gotta learn to act, if he'd gonna try and mock benitez on MOTD, terrible!

    'i don't think we should wait any longer to show our next game... wudnt want to upset benitez'
    'Now some FACTS about our next game, FACTS'
    ...that one was a bit better, but still, lame!!

  • Comment number 56.

    You just love having a go at Liverpool don't you Phil, this is the 2nd blog you've done in 2 days praising Fergie and kicking at Liverpool when we haven't won, wait till next Monday after the Derby and I bet you'll have gone quiet then.

    If the BBC are insistent on getting someone to blog about Liverpool and Man Utd they should at least get someone impartial to do it and not an Everton fan.

  • Comment number 57.

    Anfield Sean- still living off that win then?
    Just like a small club would cherish their win over United as it does not happen often-

    Here are the results of rafas league games against United prior t your win in September

    United 3-0 Liverpool
    United 1-0 Liverpool
    United 1-0 Liverpool
    United 2-0 Liverpool
    United 0-0 Liverpool
    United 1-0 Liverpool
    United 2-1 Liverpool

    Fergie 6 Rafa 1!


    Utd fans always go on about Liverpool fans talking about history but in our most recent game we beat you!

    Typical Utd fan, hypocrite.

  • Comment number 58.

    Utd were cleverly set up with the inclusion of Giggs instead of the more defensive Carrick and in a very good physical condition. All credits to Sir Alex and his team who managed to outplay the tame Chelsea outfit.

  • Comment number 59.

    Rafa's Rant sadly reminiscent of Keegan's outburst and implosion of Newcastle's season, which they have never really recovered from. I don't know how Rafa seriously believes he can win a slanging match with Fergie - verbally he won't be able to understand him for a start.
    Rafa needs to focus his energies on finding some attacking quality in midfield and up front where Liverpool are clearly inferior to Utd and the persistent use of Kuyt and lately Lucas will seriously damage their title aspirations.
    Please Rafa stop the ridiculous rant - it's not Liverpool's style.

  • Comment number 60.

    not living off a win mate, proving a point. the talking is all well and good but as far as im aware the league isnt won until after the final fixture. united fans have had alot to shout about for too long and i think we're going to kick on from where we are. we havnt lost to any of the big four yet this season and the 'mini league' at the top is always crucial. 4 points from 4 games is not very good. yes we have to go to old trafford but we went to the bridge and ended an unbeaten run that spanned a couple of years. benitez is a great manager and he is tactically aware, all we need is for some of the 'fringe players' to start performing and to escape the sometimes infuriating negative tactics(no torres or keane?) and we will be fine. united have had results go there way late on and maybe that luck will run out. im looking forward to the title run in.

  • Comment number 61.

    Phil, i cannot believe the amount of support you lot in the Media are giving to Ferguson?

    It is long long long overdue that someone finally stood up to Ferguson (whom i cannot believe actually call Sir Alex!?).

    Once again, Benitez stated FACTS!! It was NOT a rant, it was not "reckless"
    He had a list of FACTS.

    Why is it when Ferguson says something insulting that all of the Media have a chuckle and say "ah ole Ferguson up to his tricks again" and yet when another manager says anything about Fergusons team they apparently have "lost it" ???

    What is required now is for all of the yes men in football to actually stand up and support Benitez. I watched yesterday as some ex pro's and managers stuttered through why Benitez was wrong... clearly they were either told what to say or else they fear Ferguson.

    Oh by the way.... how is Ferguson "The Master" of mind games as ive seen most journalists declare ???? only Keegan has suffered so who else??

    The Media are clearly and utterly Pro Manchester

  • Comment number 62.

    boomshakalak your getting a bit you want a tissue?

  • Comment number 63.

    Like most neutral supporters for this game (if these actually exist!), I predicted that Man U will thump Chelsea this weekend, and they did. Chelsea was poor but Man U was on another level yesterday, perhaps pushed on by Rafa's comments - we will never know. These are mind games but Rafa was quoting fact, things that all PL managers knows about but too scared to voice, except from the top personnel e.g Wenger. At the end of the day, football is a business. Its all about lobbying and who you "know and support" that counts. For examples, please see previous Chelsea manager !

    If Rafa thinks that by citing some home-truths will make Man U perform better, why would he do that? I think Rafa don't care about this point but is more concerned of speaking the truth and replying to AF point about Liverpool being "scared" etc. This is football and all the talking is done on the pitch. We will see what happens in May.

  • Comment number 64.

    Only an idiot or a United fan would argue in Fergusons favour, and with you position on the BBC i would hope that you're the latter, even though im not too convinced.

    So the results might of gone Fergusons way but the mind games are completely the opposite, Benitez's remarks where calm cool and casual, and when Ferguson was asked about them his response was exactly want Benitez wanted, he stuttered, looked embarresed and didnt know what to say, and his best comeback was that the facts where not true. Perfect.

    Fergusons met his match.

  • Comment number 65.

    Benitez was foolish. Just don't get involved, focus on yourself and do your own job. Best way to shut someone up is to do the business

    To carry it on is unexplainable. Perhaps he feels he needs to maintain this public stance

    As for what he actually said. Sir Alex has been the only manager to receive a touchline ban this season. Evra was punished with a 4 game ban from an incident that happened after a match, 6 months earlier. To suggest Sir Alex controls the FA is insulting

  • Comment number 66.

    LFCfan128, United were not "on another level" yesterday. They were slightly above average, but the win was made easy by Chelsea being awful. If we carry on playing like that someone will find us out sooner or later (perhaps even Liverpool) in the league and Inter will give us a good pasting in Europe.

  • Comment number 67.

    64. At 12:07pm on 12 Jan 2009, kingkennyskop wrote
    So the results might of gone Fergusons way but the mind games are completely the opposite, Benitez's remarks where calm cool and casual, and when Ferguson was asked about them his response was exactly want Benitez wanted, he stuttered, looked embarresed and didnt know what to say, and his best comeback was that the facts where not true. Perfect.

    Fergusons met his match.
    (Rolls his eyes skywards and mutters oh Lord! Forgive them children! They do not know what they are saying!!!)

  • Comment number 68.

    Rant (verb) - to speak or declaim extravagantly or violently.

    Reading calmly from a page and chucking in a few jokes about zonal marking and Fergie writing the fixture list doesn't really qualify.

  • Comment number 69.

    for the people slagging lucas i suggest you do some research. he was the youngest player to win the golden boot in south america-beating the likes of kaka and ronaldinho in terms of age, and he is a more defense minded player than either. couple that with the fact that he has captained his country at u21/23 level and you see he is quite clearly a good player struggling for consistency. his through ball for gerrards second against newcastle was sublime. if the whole team plays badly ie against stoke then how can you justify singling out lucas.... form is temporary and all that!

  • Comment number 70.


    Come on do you really believe what you have said there!? Really!?

    Did SAF stutter about it.

    I thought Jamie Carraghers reaction on Sky Sports was more interesting. He genuinely sruggled to support his own manager!

    Rafa saying SAF is only manager not to be punished. What about Roy keane?...he was not punished. So that is not a FACT.
    SAF has been punished with a touchline ban.
    Rafa is just quite simply wrong.

    I agree it was not a KK stlye rant. He thought he was being clever. i admit he was being brave but unfortunaley the facts dont add up which means the whole thing is undermined.

  • Comment number 71.

    I still can't believe that Liverpool's challenge won't fade away.

    It's a combination of lack depth, but also a lack of experience in being winners.

    United sneaked a late winner against Stoke. Liverpool didn't. A small, but ultimately telling difference.

    How many times has Fergie been in this position over the years, only to come good at the end?

    It reminds me of those long distance track events. There is the front runner, whose brow is furrowed with anxiety as the bells sounds for the final lap. Only to watch helplessly as Coe and Ovett come steaming past at the last.

    Not so sure about Chelsea, though. That performance should have really worried Scolari.

    What are Chelsea now? A team with a small core of players who are Chelsea through and through. The rest are just hired mercenaries. It's showing now, as well.

    Take Anelka, for example, he has more clubs on his cv than Gary Player. No doubt he will add several more after Chelsea.

  • Comment number 72.

    1) Benitez was right about people being scared of United and Ferguson note that in any other team Rooney would have been sent off for two yellows but Utd players and manager are allowed to complain as much as they like

    2) Instead of making the effect on Liverpool the issue the press should be confirming the truth of what Benitez said - I see few comments on a rather one-sided refereeing display yesterday

    3) Ferguson and Utd should be put under the microscope to bring them to heel by the media and FA, their behaviour is disgraceful.

  • Comment number 73.

    I have to admit that I thought the exclusion of Scholes, Carrick and Anderson might have been a bit of a backlash to the poor Derby performance.

    Fergie stated on MUTV that he had told Giggs and Fletcher two weeks ago that they would start in the middle against Chelsea.

    I thought it was a masterstroke. Fletcher normally does well in the big games and Giggs has been there, done it, can make good runs, can spot a pass and is a very clever player.

    Ok, Giggs will not play every game, but he still has the quality to play against any team in the world and do damage when fit.

  • Comment number 74.

    Liverpool and Chelsea can forget it. Liverpool put out a team not to lose. One up front and that was `none prolific` Kuyte. Chelsea, one up front to start the game and that was out of sorts Drogba. At least Arsenal try to win. United might be misfiring (at the moment) but at least we play to win and go forward with flair and pace both of which are lacking with Chelsea and Liverpool. Treble in 1999, dare I say one better in 2009!

  • Comment number 75.

    and i agree that ferguson has served a ban and was fined but the exception tends to prove the rule. even the most ardent united fan cannot honestly say that fergie is given a ludicrous amount of leeway by the f.a and the idea that he has earned the right to bend the rules(as stated by paul merson on soccer saturday) is a joke to be frank

  • Comment number 76.

    Rooney's behaviour towards the match officials was very disappointing yesterday. Nobody doubs his talent but his attitude has a lot to be desired!

    Read more here-

  • Comment number 77.

    Well I'm not sure what all this bad feeling towards Mr. McNulty is about. He's simply wrote his facts down on a piece of paper and written them out in this blog.

    Fergie made Benitez look a bit of a fool with his response with words like 'disturbed'.

    United are the favourites for the title. Fact.
    Liverpool should concentrate on football, not trying to out do Fergie at mind games, many have tried and failed. Fact.
    Chelsea were awful, but due to United's display. Fact.

  • Comment number 78.

    re: kingkennyskop

    Met his match? Doubt it very much! Rafa responded to fergie saying "Liverpool will probably get nervous" (Not the most unreasonable thing to say) with a a4 sheet of "facts" which can be quite easily disproved.

    Top it all off with arguably Liverpool's worst performance of the season the day after, and Man Utd's crushing of the same team who took them to penalties in the champs league final last season, regardless of Chelsea's form its a pretty big statement of intent. And not forgetting the mental blow of potentially being 2nd by the times your next game comes around

  • Comment number 79.

    Some of Rafa's words of wisdom.

    "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.

    All managers need to know is that only Mr Ferguson can talk about the fixtures, can talk about referees and nothing happens.

    We had a meeting in Manchester with managers and FA about the Respect campaign. And I was very clear, forget the campaign because Mr Ferguson was killing the referees, killing Mr Atkinson, killing Mr Hackett."

    Fergie is right when he said Rafa spoke with venom and came accross as disturbed. Fergie is laughing about all this, Rafa is not. It is so so funny!

    Anyone want to bet on who will have the last laugh?

  • Comment number 80.

    Hang on manucastle, what do you mean about decisions in United's favour. Ronaldo booked for being hauled down in the penalty area - how does that work?

  • Comment number 81.

    Even I as a Manu Supporter agree that Fergie gets away with a lot, but so do other top managers. Martin O'Neil recently had a real go a referee and his outbursed was also overlooked.

    I even think that the decision for Benitez to make his scripted rant could have been a good one, but he totally mucked up the timing. He should have waited for a post-match press conference after Liverpool had just thrashed some team 3 or 4 goals and then layed down a marker for Fegie. Instead all he did, despite making a valid point, was to heap even more pressure on a team that is currently displaying poor form, and that just comes across as the desperation of a man that knows he's beaten.

    Content of an outburst not withstanding, Fergie knows perfectly well that timing is everying and he would not of made the same mistake. Benetiz needs to learn from the master...

  • Comment number 82.

    I really do not know why Benitez reacted in the way he did. The comments that Ferguson had made regarding Liverpool becoming nervous were hardly incendiary and could easily have been ignored. To react with such vitriol does not reflect very well on Benitez. And those who say he was calm and collected obviously did not see or hear him thumping the desk as he pointed out his 'facts'.

    The facts Benitez quoted were extremely selective - I am sure that Ferguson, if he chose to, could produce a dossier on favourtism towards Liverpool (as an example, think of the number of questionable sendings-off which their opponents have suffered over the past 18 months or so).

    Watching Carragher on Sky yesterday, he seemed to be vaguely bemused by the rant and was fair enough to say that the big clubs tended to get the key decisions

    In the long term, Liverpool are genuine title-challengers and could win the PL this season. What Benitez said, in my opinion (and this is not 'fact'), will not have helped their cause. I certainly think that it did work as a great team talk for United yesterday and probably worked against his own team on Saturday

  • Comment number 83.

    Just to answer one or two points.

    My belief that Rafael Benitez should have kept his own counsel is purely a matter of personal opinion. As I have said before, time will tell whether his actions have proved correct or have turned out to be follow.

    I also happen to believe Liverpool will still have a major say in the Premier League title race right up until May. I would be surprised if they fell away.

    I am not 100% certain they will win the title, but they have a better chance than they have had for years.

    United and Sir Alex Ferguson, however, have had a much more satisfactory weekend than Liverpool and Benitez and now have their destiny back in their own hands.

    In among the debate about the off-the-field spats, we should not forget that Ferguson pulled off a clever tactical move by picking Ryan Giggs in central midfield ahead of Michael Carrick against Chelsea.

    I also felt Benitez's team selection at Stoke was too cautious - a fact acknowledged by many Liverpool fans on this blog over the weekend.

    What must be the tactical approach for Ferguson and Benitez in the weeks ahead?

  • Comment number 84.

    Man Utd weren't even that good yesterday Chelsea were poor and didn't deserve anything from the game.

  • Comment number 85.

    The sad thing is that nobody is paying attention to what Benitez said, but more the fact that he said something at all.

    Ferguson has got away with slagging off refs for years. His players have got away with surrounding refs and kicking out at the opposition unpunished. With David Gill representing both Man Utd and the FA, where is the press analysis of the facts?

    Along with Ferguson's childish refusal to talk to the BBC, I think it is about time someone challenged him and shed light on what we all know to be true. It would seem Graham Poll agrees too - but I'm sure the FA will disregard his opinion.

  • Comment number 86.

    I honestly can`t believe some of the nonsense that people write on here! All i`ve read or heard is how bad Chelsea were! and nothing about to tactical know how of Fergie! What other Prem manager would have dropped Carrick and Scholes for a game against Chelsea !!! I was gutted when i saw the team sheet, but had to bow down to Fergie at the end cause giggs ran the show! Granted united didn`t play well, but they didn`t need to! Chelsea look like a team in disarray! Lampard, Deco and Ballack are all awesome players, but they do the same thing in a team, so why/how can they be played together??? They`ve also got argueably the best captain since the mighty Tony Adams, but a lot of ego`s who don`t seem to listen to him! (Ballack, deco, Drogba, Anelka) . As for Drogba and Anelka not being able to play together or not wanting to play together or not liking each other, it`s nonsense! They CAN play together, they just have to do what Big Phil asks of them, and so what if they don`t get on with each other !?!? Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham famously didn`t get on, but played together and did it well because thats what they were asked/told to do!
    As for " Rafa`s rant" I say fair play to him, it was well articulated and well delivered! But, soooooo stupid! It was just what United and Fergie needed, they love it when someone has a go at them, they smell blood and attack! But fair play Rafa, You`ve got a point! ( although i can`t see Howard Webb being intimidated by anyone! The incredible Hulk would even back down from him!)
    And as for who`s gonna win the title? It`s gonna be United or Liverpool, but i`d love for the sake of English football for Aston Villa to sneak under the Radar and knick it !
    Oh yeah, one last thing. 7. "Take gerrard out of the team and they are mid table at best." You really need to watch Alonso, Mascherano, Torres, Riera and carragher more!!

  • Comment number 87.

    re: anfieldsean

    your right the exception would normally prove the rule, but for the fact that David Moyes, Phil Brown, Roy Keane and Joe Kinnear have all had the same charges as Sir Alex, but Sir Alex has had both the most severe fine and the worst punishment, a touchline ban.

  • Comment number 88.

    #75 we are talking about facts (well Benitez is supposedly)

    The FACT is, Sir Alex has been the only manager punished with a ban this season

    This makes Benitez' fact that "Sir Alex never gets punished" completely untrue

    And why would the FA be scared of Sir Alex anyway?? What could Sir Alex possibly do to the FA? Steal their lunch money? Deflate their tyres? I'm completely lost here.

  • Comment number 89.

    "70. At 12:17pm on 12 Jan 2009, My-Pet-dragon"

    are you serious? watch the two interviews before you start talking rubbish. like i said your either a united fan or an idiot and with a name like "my-pet-dragon" i think i can hazard a guess.

  • Comment number 90.

    I was very disappointed with chelsea yesterday, they just didnt know what to do. They used to be really good at OT now look.

    I dont even support chelsea (scunthorpe utd fan) but its teams like chelsea and liverpool and Arsenal who give us hope and can beat ferguson and that arrogant team known as Man Utd.

    Chelsea need to get rid of Scolari, never rated him, and they need to go back to basics bigtime. Get rid of Deco.

    Liverpool seriously need to sort themselves out against the so called lesser teams and Arsenal, well we can write a huge novel on them currently.

  • Comment number 91.

    I am not a man utd fan by any means, or even a fan of any premier league club, but from the view of an outsider Man Utd look the only club with a strong enough squad to win the league. Liverpool are second, however good they are through Torres and Gerrard, Carragher, Alonso, Mascherano and (for my money) Babel. Other than that they are a bunch of average at best players such as Dossena, Arbeloa, Insua, Ngog and the other likes that no-ones heard of. Chelsea have far too many average players. Both Kalou and Malouda are out of place there and nowhere near good enough to play at that level. Carvalho is a disaster waiting to happen, the amount of mistakes he makes is criminal. Anelka isnt world class, ballack is past it and for some reason since Roman took over they seem to have spent around £50ml on right backs! For me, it will finish:

    Man Utd
    Aston Villa

    And to be honest, its nothing if not funny to watch Rafa try and get on Fergies back. The only guy whos manages to unite rafa, fergie and wenger is the special one. We need him back in the premier league.

  • Comment number 92.

    Why are Liverpool fans getting so defensive? Is it because Benitez made a fool of himself, and Liverpool FC, and you are all embarrassed by this?

  • Comment number 93.

    Thanks for replying earlier, Phil.

    You are absolutely right about this aggressive approach being used earlier on Arsenal. In fact, i think it was Arsenal's prety passing team around their invincible era which forced United to adopt this high-tempo tactic. They have used it successfuly ever since.

    Football comes second in these games. Teams must match United for effort before they can think about getting a result.

  • Comment number 94.

    Plenty of MU and L'pool opinion on here, not much Chelsea.
    I, like most Chels fans, still don't know what to make of Big Phil. Often this season the same could be said for the team on the pitch. Yesterday was a case in point, total lack of cohesion, spirit and invention.
    If this is Roman's idea of entertaining football then it' difficult to predict who will get bored with it first, the supporters or him!
    They will have to lift their game to beat Southend, but somehow I think 3rd place in the PL will be a result this season.
    As a supporter of 45 years I'm a long way from being worried yet, and as long as all the other title contenders fail to show consistency and drop silly points it is still game on.

  • Comment number 95.

    30. At 11:12am on 12 Jan 2009, gavin_cox wrote:

    Both teams are supposed to be at the pinnacle of the best league in the world. Not a good advert for the premiership at all!


    Isn't it strange how different people view football matches, personally I thought yesterday's game was a fantastic advert for the premiership. Usually games between United Arsenal Chelsea and Liverpool are all close encounters with either side settling for a draw and if there is to be a winner it's 1-0, 2-1 etc. With the result at 3-0 yesterday and United having 2 goals disallowed it was great for the prem.

    The majority of people on here are almost excluding Chelsea from the Title race, which is totally bizarre to me. They are not playing well at all at the moment but have almost 1/2 a season to turn it around.
    All these statistics about United winning 6 out of 8 etc could all turn around in Chelsea or Liverpools favour.
    Liverpool have Torres back, and if he hits top form, there is no saying what might happen. The Gerrard fiasco was so badly timed tohough that it might have a longer lasting effect on the team, more so than everyone thinks.

  • Comment number 96.

    Quote of yourself Phil "It was a measured, calm Ferguson. The sort of Ferguson who knows he has just won the first round of what could be a long campaign of psychological warfare".

    Are you serious, you cant have seen the initial interview when he was so tongue tied it took him almost ten seconds to get an answer out, and then went on to fire a few cheap petty insults out, obviously you saw the conveniently edited version, there is no doubt who was the winner this weekend on the pitch but he did not even come close to winning the war of words off it, but hey, he is being made out to be the winner so maybe we should all bow down to all the endless agenda's on display in the media and all agree that Mr Ferguson is not a bumbling fool but a genius.

  • Comment number 97.

    Hi Phil,

    Having had a late night on saturday, I still managed to get up early to make way to old trafford full of excitement . I am sure you notice that we did not play as good as we diid at Highbury when we lost to Arsenal but to my utter disbelief chelsea's defending was shocking than ever.

    I made a comment on your blog last week in regards to the selection of joe cole and Anelka ahead of Deco.. I hope you have now seen the detrimental effect this had for 45minutes yesterday. I am not saying Deco was exceptionally good for 45minutes but he was okay in the sense that he never gave the ball away, kept possession very well and tracked back pretty well albeit that Drogba refused to make any brilliant run and lost possesion everytime he recieved a pass. Joe cole's over leg, aimless runs and flicks gave possesion away time and time again and these put more pressure on Bosingwa who is not the best defending full back around.

    if deco din't pick up a knock and Scolari subd Drogba for Anelka swapping Deco to his favourite central midfield position or free role(also mentioned by Jamie Redknapp) they probably would have got a point out of the game but I am sure you would have criticised that in your blog today. Do yuo now see why he picks Deco ahead of Joe cole? Lampard and Ballack lacked falir and creativity and the back four performance was terrible. One last thing is when milan were champions of europe, italy and world the average age of their players was 29 and they never played with wingers.

  • Comment number 98.

    I think you'll Anfieldsean that we don't have a professional regime in NI therefore we tend to support PL teams. Many support Man U due to the NI connection with the club such as Best Whiteside etc.

    I'm sure you live closer to Anfield than your nearest non league side which you could support instead (equivalent of our non-professional Irish league).

    For the record I've been supporting Utd since 88 when I was 6 as my dad was a fan since the days of Best and co

    But sure, you know everthing don't ya.....

  • Comment number 99.

    anfield sean... that made me smile mate... for what it is worth i am a chelsea fan not a utd fan.. so i'm not that excited about it - i am just commenting on Fergie and Rafa as i see it... i'm certainly not very excited about utd spanking us at the weekend... but credit where credit is due...

    as for my excitement levels and need for a tissue... save the tissue for your anfield buddies to a) use due to their premature excitement at thinking they have a hope in hell of winning the league this year or any of the next 5... and then b) to cry into following another season of not winning the league..

    odds on Gerrard doing the annual transfer request?

  • Comment number 100.

    No, all these Liverpool and other fans are right.

    I mean its not as if Evra got a 4 game ban and Fergie himself a 2 game touchline ban it's quite obvious he has a hold over all the ref's and the FA themselves.


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