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By ESPN Staff

Drogba slams Benitez for criticising his style

Didier Drogba admits he has lost respect for Rafael Benitez following the Liverpool manager's attack on what he perceives as the Chelsea striker's theatrical behaviour.

Benitez fanned the flames ahead of tonight's Champions League semi-final second leg between the two teams by claiming Drogba goes down too easily, while also revealing he has compiled a four-year dossier of the striker's alleged 'diving' antics.

Drogba was criticised for supposed play-acting in last week's first leg, which finished 1-1.

But the Ivory Coast international insists he was manhandled by Liverpool centre-halves Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel at Anfield and believes Benitez is simply playing mind games.

'Perhaps he is looking for something to destabilise us before the match,' Drogba told French daily newspaper L'Equipe. 'Benitez was a manager I respected a lot. Until now, I found him not only very competent but also classy.

'But he has really disappointed me here. His words demonstrate a weakness. A top manager would never go so low to attack a player.

'Maybe he should concentrate on his own team's game and if he wants me to stay on my feet, maybe he should tell his defenders to stop hitting me.

'In the first leg, Carragher and the other one (Skrtel) didn't stop. And not just with me. I finished the match with bruises everywhere.

'Last year, I broke a rib against Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final. Strangely, that escapes the statistics of Benitez.

'It will not affect me. If I fall, I will always get up. The best response I can give will be on the pitch.'

Liverpool have knocked Chelsea out at the semi-final stage two times in the past three years.

But the Blues have the advantage going into the second leg this season because of John Arne Riise's late own goal at Anfield.

And Drogba does not believe Liverpool are as strong at the back compared to previous years.

'His (Benitez's) team is more attacking,' he added. 'He has more weapons in attack, with Fernando Torres in particular.

'But I find them less balanced and more vulnerable in defence. They give you more space.

'The Liverpool of 2005 and 2007 defended better. But the team is still very strong.'

Drogba will lead the line against Liverpool but will be supported by attacking midfielder Michael Ballack, who scored twice in Saturday's 2-1 Premier League win against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

The pair clashed over who should take a free-kick in the second half of that match and they had an angry exchange of words moments later.

But Drogba insists that incident has been forgotten and claims the Germany captain has been Chelsea's key player at the business end of the season.

'There was a lot of tension and emotion on the pitch, it was a big match and we clashed,' Drogba said.

'These things happen and five minutes later, everything was forgotten. Ballack is someone I really appreciate, as a player and as a man. He has had to work really hard this season but he has come back very strong.

'He is making the difference. He is Chelsea's most important player at the moment.'

Drogba also claims talk of him joining Inter Milan or Real Madrid is purely speculation, and maintains his sole focus is on helping his club win silverware this season.

The Ivory Coast star has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge and earlier this season he said he wanted to leave Chelsea.

He admits he is flattered by the reports but will wait until the end of the campaign before deciding on his future.

'People are saying a lot of things but I still have two years left on my contract,' he told L'Equipe. 'At the moment, I am only thinking about the end of the season with Chelsea and the amazing aims that we have left.

'I know (about the Inter rumours). We are in a period of speculation. People see me also at Real Madrid and other clubs.

'It is flattering but not the news.'