Delighted with the response to his broadside against the man he insists on calling "Meester Ferguson", Rafa Benitez has expanded it to include Manchester United's influence in the corridors of footballing power. Having previously berated the Football Association for allowing Sir Alex Ferguson too much leeway in his dealings with referees, he said there was a conflict of interest in United's chief executive, David Gill, sitting on the FA board, implying that the club receive favourable treatment.
Benitez had been accused of dealing in mental warfare, but on Saturday night he insisted: "I don't think it's a mind game when you have control of everything, the chief secretary [executive] in the FA and things like this, it's not mind games. It's another fact. One fact is that a person has a lot of power and control and is on a lot of committees in the FA. So [that's] something very strange."
Asked if he was surprised by the level of support he had received for his views from within the game, a good-humoured Benitez said: "No, after 22 years of Mr Ferguson working I understand why. A lot of people think the same. I need to change my mobile phone because it is blocked with messages! I'm sure the Southampton manager would say he supports me 100 per cent."
Southampton's Jan Poortvliet had alleged that after Sir Alex Ferguson "had a word" with the referee in last weekend FA Cup tie, "everything went United's way."
The Liverpool manager added that although he might be prepared to call a truce if his United counterpart did, there was more ammunition in store: "I'm more than happy to defend my club. If he concentrates on football, we will concentrate on football. If he continues saying things, OK, maybe we will have to look for more facts and maybe in 22 years we have a lot of facts."
In his after-match briefing to daily newspapers at the Britannia Stadium, Benitez did not mention the game once. It clearly suited him not to dwell on a Liverpool performance that was well below-par on a ground where United had won a fortnight ago with a late goal by Carlos Tevez. It would have been rough justice on hard-working Stoke had Liverpool done the same, as they threatened to when a hitherto ineffective Steven Gerrard clipped first the bar and then a post.
For that final effort, in added time, the leaders had been reduced to emulating Stoke with a punt downfield that Fernando Torres – only a substitute again – flicked on for Gerrard. Significantly, he was unable to hit a clean shot because of pressure from the home team's Ryan Shawcross (below), one of four central defenders who were all on top of their game in a disappointing match. Abdoulaye Faye was strong alongside him and Liverpool's Sami Hyypia and Martin Skrtel stood up well to Stoke's bombardment.
To nobody's surprise, the home team's two best chances followed long throws by Rory Delap, who hit the bar after one was not cleared and later homed another right onto the head of an unmarked Dave Kitson, who nodded it too high.
With their first-choice strikers unavailable, Stoke did not manage a shot on target, Kitson and Richard Cresswell having failed to score a Premier League goal between them in 31 appearances; all of which explains why they are keen to buy Sheffield United's James Beattie.
Benitez's final jibe at United was: "They were saying Liverpool is not a threat. Now they know we are a threat." But only if they improve on Saturday's showing.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson, Ab Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham; Delap, Whelan, Am Faye, Etherington (Lawrence, 78); Cresswell, Kitson (Pugh, 89). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Griffin, Olofinjana, Tonge, Sonko.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio; Mascherano, Lucas; Benayoun (Babel, 76), Gerrard, Riera (Tores, 60); Kuyt. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Dossena, Keane, Plessis, El Zhar.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire)
Booked: Stoke Etherington, Wilkinson; Liverpool Gerrard, Lucas.
Man of the match: Shawcross.
Attendance: 27,500.Reuse content