Mourinho 'afraid' as Benitez stokes up rivalry

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The Independent Football

It takes a lot for the urbane Spaniard to enter into controversy, so when he labelled referee Massimo De Santis' decision not to award his team a penalty in the Champions' League on Wednesday night as "unbelievable", the shock value was akin to the Dalai Lama declaring war on China.

Yesterday, however, he went even further, claiming Jose Mourinho is "worried and afraid" of Liverpool, following three Champions' League meetings in which Chelsea have failed to confirm their dominance or even score against the reigning European champions, whom they meet again at Anfield this Sunday.

Mourinho's comments before and after the Group G stalemate have been accepted as compliments by Benitez, whose team finished 37 points behind the Premiership champions last season but have shown, in Europe at least, that there is a way to frustrate and occasionally dominate the unbeaten League leaders.

However, suggestions that Liverpool did not deserve to be in May's Champions' League final courtesy of Luis Garcia's controversial goal - "there could have been a penalty and a red card with another referee", said Benitez, referring to Petr Cech's foul on Milan Baros in the build-up to that semi-final decider - and that they were not worthy European champions and now rely exclusively on the long ball towards Peter Crouch met with an equally forthright response from the Liverpool manager yesterday.

"I am sure they don't like playing Liverpool," he said. "They keep talking and talking and talking. Maybe they are worried and afraid. We were better than them on Wednesday, we controlled the defence and the midfield and as a manager I was very happy with the performance. [Mourinho's comments] show we can beat them and he is worried about the games against us.

"I think he needs to talk because he thinks it will be difficult to control the game and beat us. I don't like to talk about other teams but Chelsea have had a lot of problems against us because we have approached all the games with confidence and we are not afraid. Yes, you can win or lose, but we know we can beat them by preparing for the games carefully and with 90 minutes of concentration."

There is unlikely to be the same degree of personal antipathy between Benitez and Mourinho as there was between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger when they fought unopposed for the title, for the main reason that the Iberian rivals do share a healthy respect, but animosity between the clubs they represent is inflating with every meeting, as the fallout to an incident-lacking draw on Wednesday illustrates.

"When we meet we talk about football, family and other things but not the style of football, we have different ideas," said Benitez. "I can't stop him if he wants to keep talking about us, but I have my own idea, and my own conclusion is we played really well. If they keep talking about us it means we are doing the right things."

Liverpool still feel aggrieved at the penalty appeals they had rejected by the Italian referee, and although Jamie Carragher refused to dwell on his own claims for a handball against William Gallas, in order to demonstrate the dignity he feels exists at Anfield but not Stamford Bridge, the England defender responded to criticism of Liverpool's style yesterday by turning the tables on Mourinho. "I know it's an easy accusation to make against a side when you've a 6ft 7in striker, but we showed a lot of good quality all over the pitch," said Carragher.

"We watched videos of Chelsea before the game and when we saw their game against Bayern Munich from last season's Champions' League I could not remember seeing so many long balls in a match since I started watching football in the 1980s."

That tall striker, Crouch, who continued his fine Champions' League form in an enthralling duel with the equally impressive John Terry, revealed the instructions Benitez issued to Liverpool before Wednesday's game, instructions the rest of the Premiership might do well to follow.

Crouch said: "The manager has told us not to be scared by them, we won't be bullied by them. I think when the game goes against them you can cause them problems."

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