Sir Alex Ferguson has delivered an unvarnished message to Liverpool to assist his own side's title prospects, invoking the history of the club he has always despised, as he urged them to see off Chelsea at Anfield tomorrow afternoon.
The question ahead of Ferguson's press conference was not so much whether he would try out some psychological weaponry on Rafael Benitez as which form. Two years ago, he needled Gary Megson's Bolton into drawing at Chelsea, but United's pursuit of the 19th title which has eluded Liverpool for so long demanded a more subtle approach.
"I am confident," he said, when talk turned to Liverpool, "not trying." "I have to be confident. Great clubs don't throw their history away. They don't throw their traditions away for one game." He recalled the 1994/95 finale when Liverpool's defeat of Blackburn Rovers would have handed United the title had they not stumbled at West Ham on the last day.
"There are many similarities with 1995," said Ferguson, who raised the prospect of Wayne Rooney shaking off his groin injury to be available for United's match at Sunderland which kicks off an hour after the Liverpool tie has finished. "We depended and hoped for Liverpool producing, and we got it. I remember Roy Evans talking to me and saying, 'You have to earn the right to win a title' and that stands today. OK, there were a lot of English players in that Liverpool team who understood the history of the club very well, but I don't think that has such a swing that the players don't understand the history of Liverpool. They have been in 10 European finals [11, to be precise], won 18 titles, so that's a fantastic history. You don't throw that away. And the fans know that to. Do you think their fans want to go home, saying that their team capitulated and didn't even try? Of course not."
When the deflation Liverpool's players will be feeling after their Europa League semi-final defeat was put to him, Ferguson declared it was "Rafa's job to lift his players," adding: "I've been there myself, when we lost to Bayern Munich [in the Champions League quarter-final] and the way we lost, it was a difficult job to raise the players but you have to do it. That is your job. You cannot wallow in pity at this club." Given that an anaemic United laboured to a goalless draw at Blackburn after their European exit to the Germans, it was not the best of comparisons.
Yet Benitez has significant reasons of his own for wanting a performance, even though Ferguson might not be enthused to know his old rival feels the fixture planners have dealt United an unfair advantage by allowing them to play their fixture later.
"Normally the last two games in Spain everybody plays at the same time so everybody is in the same position," Benitez said. "Here it will be different so everybody will know what is going on. What time do [United] play? Later than us and Chelsea"
Ferguson announced that his club captain Gary Neville had been handed a new one-year contract, though concerns persist about Rio Ferdinand, whom he hinted might not be able to train yesterday. "We'll see how [he and Rooney] do. The fact Wayne missed last week's game allowed the ankle to settle, so we don't have any issues with that now. But groin injuries are groin injuries and, at this time of year when grounds become firm, it can become an issue. If he comes through today it gives us something to think of for Sunday, though."