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By ESPN Staff

Benitez wants to follow Ferguson's lead

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez wants to emulate Sir Alex Ferguson and spend 20 years at the same club - winning trophies all the way.

Benitez takes his confident Liverpool to Old Trafford in the Barclays Premiership on Sunday for a match already being billed as a showdown for runners-up spot behind runaway leaders Chelsea.

Liverpool have suffered just one defeat in 18 games, and victory will see them leapfrog United into second place and stand two points ahead of their north-west rivals with two games in hand.

Benitez therefore has much to concentrate his mind in the short term - but he is looking much further ahead too.

'I am a great admirer of Sir Alex,' he said.

'He has done a wonderful job at United for many years. But yes, I would also like to spend 20 years at the same club like he has.

'If I could do that at Liverpool it would mean we will have won many trophies.

'I am also aware of the criticism Sir Alex has been having recently, and I sympathise. People have very short memories.'

Benitez is taking nothing for granted this weekend, even though Liverpool are in such outstanding form.

'In games like this, you never know what will happen,' he said.

'For me this is like games between Barcelona and Real Madrid. It doesn't matter who is doing well - the result can be anything.

'I do not see this as a form team against one not doing so well. That's nonsense. Manchester United are a very good team with excellent players and a great manager.

'It will be very difficult for us there. Old Trafford is a difficult stadium to play in because of the quality and experience of their players. We must do our job well and show them the respect they deserve.

'United have many great players, and we must be very aware of all of them. I would like to see an open, attacking game - but because there is so little difference between the sides now, we must expect both teams to be very careful and the game close.'

Benitez also believes United's defeat away to Manchester City last week could work against his team.

'It will be difficult,' he predicted.

'Because they lost to their greatest rivals last week, they will want even more to do their best against us.'

Benitez also has great personal respect for Ferguson.

'Last year we were both going to Geneva for a coaching seminar and shared the same plane,' he recalled.

'He was kind enough to explain a lot of things about football in England. I would certainly like to be a manager of one club as long as he has been at United.'

Benitez is happy with the progress Liverpool have made this season in cutting the giant lead United had over them last season when the clubs finished 19 points apart.

'I'm happy with the situation this season. It is true last season we finished too far away from them,' he said.

'But now we are progressing. Our team is stronger. We are really close with two games in hand and we will try and finish higher than them.

'It is important to beat the best teams. To beat Manchester United would be fantastic.

'If you win against fantastic players and the best team it is good for you.'

Benitez is quietly confident about the match, as is Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso - who wins no prizes for originality when he singles out United's front pair of Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney as the players to stop.

'One of the keys to beating United is controlling Rooney and Van Nistelrooy, and we are confident we can keep them at bay by marking them well,' he said.

'We have to make them feel uncomfortable so that they can't play their normal game against us. I trust in Liverpool's defensive system to neutralise those two great strikers, as we would any other forwards and as we've been doing all season.'

Liverpool, who lost 10 league games away from home last season, have become notably more secure in the current campaign - and Alonso believes that may tilt the balance in their favour.

He said: 'We lost 2-1 at Old Trafford last year to two set-pieces - but we're better in defence now and have conceded fewer goals this season.

'We are a more solid team this year and we're very difficult to score against.

'It's always difficult to control United in their own stadium - but the objective is to keep it tight, convert our chances and look for a win. To get three points at Old Trafford will be very difficult, but we're going to try.'