'I knew Liverpool would struggle' says Ferguson

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson has suggested ahead of Liverpool's visit to Old Trafford tomorrow that Rafael Benitez's side over-performed last season and never looked likely to repeat their achievements, including a 4-1 victory at Manchester United, that saw them briefly threaten to sneak the title.

Ferguson was responding to the suggestion when it was put to him, rather than driving his own attack on Liverpool; but the United manager first said on the club's pre-season tour of South Africa last summer that Benitez's side would struggle to match last season's 86-point haul – which would possibly be enough to win the League this season – and he clearly feels vindicated by a dismal season for last year's runners-up.

"I thought it was an exceptional season [for them] and I thought it would be difficult to achieve that again. That was just my opinion," said Ferguson, who believes there will be no repeat of the humiliating defeat Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard inflicted on his team at Old Trafford a year ago last week.

The levels of personal animosity Ferguson is willing to convey publicly towards Benitez have dipped since last March, when at the corresponding Friday press conference the United manager suggested that a knowledge of Freud would be needed to read the tortured mind of the Spaniard, who had made his legendary "facts" speech against Ferguson earlier that year.

But the raw indignation Ferguson feels about the Football Association's decision not to ban Gerrard for an apparent use of an elbow on Portsmouth's Michael Brown last Monday night, while Rio Ferdinand was banned for four games for an offence which looked no worse, led Ferguson to suggest that Liverpool are also the side who get the breaks in encounters between these two most inveterate of rivals. "Yes we know [they get the breaks]," Ferguson reflected. "They do all right. They are lucky like that. Maybe one day we will get lucky."

Nemanja Vidic's extraordinary record of three dismissals in consecutive games against Liverpool has reinforced Ferguson's sense of injustice. "The two [sendings off] at Anfield were definitely influenced by the crowd and the Liverpool players," Ferguson said. "I have looked at them again. The last one at Anfield was two yellow cards. I don't think they were right. Last year he brought down Gerrard on the edge of the box. But I don't think it will affect him. With [Rio] Ferdinand and Vidic coming back you can see a much greater presence at the back now."

Ferguson reserved most of his ire for the FA, an organisation he described as "dysfunctional" for the Gerrard decision. Ridiculing the inflated cost and inconsistent outcome, as he sees it, of reviewing such incidents, he accused the FA of anti-United prejudice: "If it was a Manchester United player he would have been done, as was the case with Rio Ferdinand."

Ferguson wants to see a body of four out-of-work managers sitting to consider such incidents every Sunday, under the aegis of the League Managers' Association. "There are about 20 redundant managers around who have had a good experience of the game, have good knowledge, have played the game," he said. "They could get involved. It would save a fortune because God knows what it costs them down there in London. "

In the FA's defence, the disciplinary system prevents their intervening if a referee – in Monday's case Stuart Attwell – has seen an offence and made an instant decision. It is not the FA's fault that Attwell called the incident incorrectly. Though the allegation of prejudice might be deemed worthy of investigation in itself by the FA, there are no plans to ask Ferguson to explain his comments.

One individual who seems to have some explaining to do is United's Owen Hargreaves who, after returning to competitive action after 18 months out, said that he has not given up on his World Cup aspirations. This did not please his manager, either. "I think we deserve some service. Right? He needs to get his service in," Ferguson said. "Talking about World Cups ... there is nothing wrong with talking about it. But he should be concentrating on United. And he will do that."

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