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By ESPN Staff

Ferguson laughs off Rafa's recent comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has cheekily responded to Rafael Benitez's growing criticism of him by declaring -- "I didn't know you cared."

After Benitez's astounding rant during the Christmas period, which seemed to backfire on the Spaniard until Liverpool's stunning win at Old Trafford last month, the Anfield chief launched a fresh attack on Tuesday.

Benitez claimed Ferguson was running scared of his team and had been perfectly civil towards him until Liverpool started to become a threat.

Yet again Ferguson has refused to get drawn into an outright war of words, just as he did after Benitez's initial attack.

However, instead of just ignoring the Liverpool boss as he did last time, the long-serving United chief offered a rather tongue-in-cheek observation.

"The interesting thing as far as Rafa Benitez is concerned is that he has got a European tie coming up and he is talking about Alex Ferguson,'' he laughed.

"That's fantastic. I didn't know I was that important."

Asked another question about Benitez, Ferguson smiled and said simply: "I have no further comment to make.''

It appeared Benitez's latest sideswipe came as a result of Ferguson talking about Liverpool in public.

Yet, as the Scot pointed out, responding to questions about rival teams tends to come with the territory as a top Premier League boss.

"If you ask me a question about other teams, I give you an opinion," said Ferguson.

"[Arsenal boss] Arsene Wenger was talking about Manchester United a couple of weeks ago.

"He was asked a question and I had to dampen down what he said -- that United were the new untouchables -- because I knew all the dangers of it.

"But it was a fair answer at the time, given the way people looked at our club a few weeks ago."

However, Benitez is unlikely to be too impressed with Ferguson's conclusions about Liverpool's midweek performance.

Having stated seven days ago the winner of the all-English Champions League quarter-final would become the Red Devils' most troublesome title rival, Ferguson sees no reason to change his view.

Indeed, he likened Chelsea's thumping win to Manchester United's FA Cup semi-final replay triumph over Arsenal in 1999 for the impact it might have.

"You can never forget Ryan Giggs' goal at Villa Park in the year we won the treble in 1999,'' said Ferguson.

"That just lifted everyone. From then on we were unbeatable.

"Chelsea will be very buoyed up now. That is what happens when you get a really important result. And that was a good performance.''

Although United do have a game in hand on both Liverpool and Chelsea, Ferguson prefers to dismiss it.

Instead, the Scot regards the gap to his respective rivals as one point and four, with very similar goal differences.

It looks tight, and Ferguson is perfectly happy for the battle to go down to the last day -- as it did 12 months ago.

"That would do me fine,'' he said. "We are used to that.

"I am certainly not thinking about the game in hand because it can create a false situation.

"Yes it is an opportunity when the game eventually arises but, at the moment, we are a point ahead and we have to concentrate on that.''

A groin injury threatens to keep Jonny Evans out of tomorrow's visit to Sunderland so John O'Shea will start in central defence and Gary Neville at right-back, reversing the positions that proved so disastrous against Villa.

There is a glimmer of light, though, as Rio Ferdinand, Rafael da Silva and Wes Brown could all return at some stage in the next fortnight, even if Ferdinand is the only one who could be fit for next week's trip to Portugal.

However, Ferguson was happy to confirm Wayne Rooney will make the trip to Wearside, completely nonplussed by midweek stories the England man would miss out with a rib problem.

"I don't know where that one came from," he said.

"Wayne is perfectly okay. You get bumps and bruises in games. But he is playing tomorrow, don't worry about that."


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