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Fergie gives Rafa backing

Sir Alex Ferguson comes out in support of Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez in his alleged dispute with the club's American owners.

sports Updated: Dec 15, 2007 11:21 IST

Most visiting teams find playing at Anfield an intimidating experience.

Not Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who ranks the trip to Liverpool as a highlight of his season.

"It encapsulates everything I think about British football," Ferguson said yesterday ahead of tomorrow's Premier League game.

"The passion, the fervor of the fans, the ability of the football, the history of the competition between the clubs."

United is riding a six-year unbeaten streak in league matches at Anfield. Ferguson hopes his young title challengers will rise to the occasion again.

"You have to be a man to handle that atmosphere," he said. "If you are a lamb, you are dead."

Ferguson had been expecting to face a "wounded animal" after Liverpool's 3-1 defeat at Reading last weekend rekindled the debate about Benitez's tactics.

But the Spaniard masterminded a 4-0 demolition of Marseille on Tuesday to secure a spot in the Champions League knockout phase after a dismal start to the group stage.

"We are in good shape after winning in Marseille," Benitez said. "When you play well, score four goals on a difficult away ground, everyone is happy."

He needs that confidence to endure until tomorrow to claim a first league victory over United.

"It is so close the line between the two teams. Our statistics in these matches might not be the best but in every game it has been really tight," Benitez said.

"More important than the points is the confidence you could get from winning," Benitez said.

"If you can beat United or Arsenal, the confidence the team gets can be really important."

Despite the Reading setback, Liverpool remains in the top four with 30 points. Arsenal leads the table with 37 points, followed by United with 36 and Chelsea with 34. Both Benitez and Ferguson will be hoping Arsenal and Chelsea draw in Sunday's other big game.

Liverpool fans are hoping for their first league title since 1990.

In that span, Ferguson has brought nine titles to Old Trafford. He can't understand the Reds' failure to build on their record haul of 18 league trophies, which surpasses United's 16.

"You scratch your head considering the club's past record," he said. "It's difficult to assess."

It is likely to be an issue raised by Liverpool's American owners, George Gillett Jr. And Tom Hicks, who are arriving this weekend to attend the game and hold talks with Benitez.

Benitez has called a partial truce with the owners after reportedly enraging them by accusing them of not understanding the European soccer player transfer market.

Benitez, who has won the European Cup and FA Cup since arriving at Liverpool in 2004, hopes his face-to-face meeting with Gillett and Hicks will clear the air before the push for titles in the second half of the season.

"We have had some disagreements at a professional level," Benitez said. "But when we meet and talk, everything will be cleared up and it will be seen as a simple misunderstanding.

"We all want the same thing which is the best for Liverpool and as such I am sure that we will understand each other well."

Benitez has the backing of Ferguson.

"I can never understand where the criticism comes from. All of a sudden you read of a supposed dispute between Rafa and his directors," Ferguson said.

"There's obviously some undercurrent of a dispute somewhere along the line, but with Rafa's record it's strange because it's a great record."

While Benitez is reportedly frustrated by the lack of contact with his bosses, Ferguson is happy to have few dealings with United's American owners.

He prefers United's chief executive David Gill to liaise with Malcolm Glazer and his sons.

"They come over periodically and I'm happy with that.