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Ferguson savours sweet riposte to Benitez onslaught

Monday, January 12, 2009 , Posted by Linda at 10:54 AM

MANCHESTER, England (AFP) – Sir Alex Ferguson will savour the riposte provided by his players to Rafael Benitez's criticism: a 3-0 win over Chelsea that puts Manchester United in the driving seat in the Premier League title battle could scarcely have been more sweetly-timed.

Ferguson savours sweet riposte to Benitez onslaught Manchester United's Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar celebrates after beating Chelsea 3-0

But the Manchester United manager is far too wily an operator to celebrate victory over any adversary prematurely.

So it was not entirely surprising that last week's extraordinary outburst from Benitez was treated by Ferguson as if he were discussing the worryingly erratic behaviour of a distant, elderly relative.

Where Liverpool's manager had vented his anger over what he sees as his counterpart's hypocrisy, bullying of officials and serial whingeing, Ferguson restricted his response to an expression of bemusement in a tone that veered towards the pitying.

"There was a lot of venom in what he has said and I don't understand where it has come from," the Scot said. "He is obviously disturbed about something. When he reflects on it he must realise what a ridiculous thing he is saying.

"But I don't want to say anything else because all I want to do is keep my focus on my team."

Sunday's win means United will displace Liverpool at the top of the table if they win their two games in hand, the first of which is a rearranged fixture at home to Wigan on Wednesday.

Having taken five points out of six from Chelsea and with home fixtures against both Liverpool and Arsenal to come, United are looking ominously well-placed at a time of the season when Ferguson's sides traditionally hit their stride.

The Scot will be happier however when his squad have navigated their way through a fixtures backlog generated by appearances in the European Super Cup and the World Club Championship.

"We have got some tough games coming up -- Wigan who are playing fantastically well at the moment and Bolton at Bolton (on Saturday) which is always a tough game.

"Eight games in January is a big test for us. But we have the squad and hopefully we can cope."

Important as it was, Sunday's victory will not go down as a vintage performance from Ferguson's men. Instead, it was Chelsea's combination of impotent attacking with seriously slipshod defending that provided the defining features of this encounter and it would be intriguing to know what Jose Mourinho, watching from the VIP seats, must have made of it all.

Certainly it is hard to imagine a Mourinho side defending as ineffectively as Chelsea did on United's second and third goals, both close range finishes from Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in which their markers were culpable.

But, as both managers agreed, the contest had been effectively settled by the Nemanja Vidic header which gave United the lead in first-half stoppage time.

"Getting the goal at half-time certainly made the difference -- they had to chase the game a bit in the second half," Ferguson said.

"They had a lot of good possession and they are a threat when they get possession because they have so many clever players. But we defended the 18-yard-line really well and I don't think they got a really clear cut chance."

Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari admitted his side could not be regarded as credible title challengers unless they improved on what was a decidedly low-energy display here.

"If we play three or four games as now (today), we're sure not to win (the title) but now it is the time for me and the players to think about our future," Scolari said. "Either we lose everything or we are men and we improve."

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