Rafa riled by Fergie tactics

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Rafa Benitez believes Sir Alex Ferguson has attempted to manipulate referee Steve Bennett ahead of Liverpool's trip to Manchester United on Sunday.

United boss Ferguson has repeatedly called for star player Cristiano Ronaldo to receive more protection from officials in the days leading up to this weekend's match.

The Scot insists he fears the Portugal winger will be driven out of the Barclays Premier League by the type of rough treatment Ferguson claims he witnessed in the recent FA Cup defeat to Portsmouth.

But Liverpool manager Benitez believes his opposite number is simply playing mind games.


"Ferguson is clever, that is clear," Benitez said. "After a difficult game, he was talking about referees and before an important game (against Liverpool) he is talking about protecting Ronaldo.

"The referees, though, have experience and they will know Ferguson. This kind of treatment must be the same for all the teams and all the players.

"I wasn't surprised last week to hear what he was saying. I just want to go into the game with the same situation as the other team."

Benitez is confident Bennett, who is due to officiate at Old Trafford on Sunday, will not be influenced by Ferguson.

"I think the referee has experience and is strong enough so I don't see it being a problem," said the Spaniard, who believes his own players deserve just as much protection as Ronaldo.

"Ferguson is very clever and has a lot of experience.

"I don't know what he was thinking about exactly, but if you need to protect Ronaldo, you also need to protect (Fernando) Torres and (Steven) Gerrard and all the skilful players in the league."