Benitez unleashes angry attack on Ferguson

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Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has launched an attack on his Manchester United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson.

The Spaniard claimed United boss Ferguson is "the only manager who will not be punished" for outspoken attacks on referees.

"We had a meeting in Manchester with managers and the Football Association about the respect campaign," Benitez claimed. "And I was very clear, forget the campaign because Mr Ferguson was killing the referees, killing Mr [Martin] Atkinson, killing Mr [Keith[ Hackett.

Benitez is clearly irked by the lenient way he sees Ferguson treated by the FA, and hit back at the Old Trafford chief's complaints about how the fixtures are compiled.

But the Spaniard's long list of complaints about the world and European champions was not an angry rant. It was a measured, controlled delivery at the media conference ahead of the Barclays Premier League trip to Stoke.

Liverpool are top - and if they win tomorrow they will be six points clear of second-placed Chelsea and 10 ahead of the champions before the pair meet at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Benitez sat with a sheet of paper, unfolded in front of him, from which he read a catalogue of grievances against the Manchester United regime.

Ferguson's complaints about supposed favouritism over fixtures prompted Benitez to say: "I was surprised by what has been said, but maybe they are nervous because we are at the top of the table.

"But I want to talk about facts. I want to be clear, I do not want to play mind games too early, although they seem to want to start."

Benitez believes Ferguson is getting away with attacks on referees which would not be tolerated from other managers.

"All managers need to know is that only Mr Ferguson can talk about the fixtures, can talk about referees and nothing happens," he said. "We need to know that I am talking about facts, not my impression. There are things that everyone can see every single week.

"Are they under pressure? Maybe they were not thinking that we would be at the top of the table in January. But we are at the top of the table and they are nervous.

"I am not telling the authorities what to do. But I have been here for five years and know how things are going on."

Benitez added: "To hear someone talking when he has problems with referees every single week, and now complaining about the fixtures and complaining about everything, I think that is not fair.

"You can see every week how they put (referees) under pressure, we know this. We have seen it before We have seen players sent off at Old Trafford and we do not see our opponents sent off. It is part of the game. But to complain and to always have an advantage is not fair.

Benitez then focused on Ferguson's complaints about the fixture list.

"Then he was talking about the fixtures. 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," he said.

"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 December 29 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."

Benitez finished off by criticising the conduct of United officials when Liverpool play matches at Old Trafford. He added: "We know what happens every time we go to Old Trafford and the United staff. They are always going man-to-man with the referees, especially at half-time when they walk close to the referees and they are talking and talking..."