The old emnity between Rafael Benitez and Sir Alex Ferguson revealed itself again last night as the Spaniard poured scorn on the claim of the Manchester United manager that the exertions of playing Real Madrid had caused his side's FA Cup collapse. Chelsea recovered from a two goal deficit to draw the FA Cup tie and the pair refused to shake each others' hand.
Benitez, who said he had walked away without offering Ferguson his hand after the United manager had behaved similarly before the game, said Chelsea's long trip to Steaua Bucharest on Thursday made a mockery of the Scot's claim of player fatigue. "I thought you were joking. They were playing on Tuesday. We were playing on Thursday in Romania," Benitez said.
The Spaniard confirmed his striker Fernando Torres felt he had been struck on the back of the head and deliberately tripped by Rio Ferdinand in an off-the-ball incident for which the defender may find himself receiving a retrospective red card from the Football Association if, as seems likely, referee Howard Webb tells the governing body today that he did not see the incident. If Ferdinand is punished, he would miss three games, including the replay, which could be staged on Sunday or Monday.
Ferdinand hauled the striker to his feet and there was similarly bad blood between the managers, with Benitez clearly of the view that Ferguson, who has repeatedly questioned the Chelsea manager's mind in the past, was the instigator. "I was waiting," Benitez repeatedly said, describing Ferguson's apparent failure to shake hands.
"It was up to him. I was waiting at the beginning [of the game.] I was in the way and he [walked straight past]. Ask him, if you are brave enough. I was ready and wating, I have some impatience."
Benitez got the better of Ferguson on the field of play, with his brave second-half substitutions – Eden Hazard and John Obi Mikel brought on for Victor Moses and Frank Lampard – which turned the game. The Spaniard made them in the teeth of rapid abuse for the Chelsea manager from both sets of fans. "The difference [is that] Hazard is a player with talent and he can make a difference," Benitez said, explaining that the switch gave him different options among those midfielders who could go forward to join the attack.
"I asked Frank to give 100 per cent until then and he did. You have to manage the squad. We saw the character and the reaction that I was expecting so until the end of the season we will be fighting."
Benitez said his side deserved to win. "Yeah, I think so. I think that if we analyse the game, we deserve to win. The first half we make two mistakes and conceded two goals. The second half we were on top of them," he said. Of the abusive chants he faced when his side laboured in the first half, Benitez added: "I am a professional and we were going to Romania and I knew we had players who were a little bit tired and we had to manage them."
Asked if Benitez had seen the Torres-Ferdinand incident, he added: "I haven't. Fernando mentioned it – but you can see the replay."
Ferguson, who lost Nani to a hamstring injury just before half-time, said: "We are lucky to still be in the FA Cup. We ran out of legs. Our two full-backs, Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra, were just knackered. The two centre midfield players tired badly and we just kept giving the ball away. It made it a long day for us because we had to go from one penalty box and back to our own. They were by far the better team in the second half.
"We could have been maybe four up in the first 25 minutes of the match but I detected there was some signs of tiredness in the way we were giving the ball away. When you see teams giving the ball away the way we were then you have to understand the problem is the emotions and intensity of Tuesday night had taken its toll on one or two of the players, understandably. And I have no problems with that part."
The winners of the replay will face Manchester City in the semi-finals but such is the fixture pile-up that there is no obvious date for that replay to take place.
Benitez said: "I cannot say when I prefer, we have so many games it depends on the dates. It is an FA decision."
Rafa watch: how Benitez's afternoon went from bad to beautiful
Benitez comes under a wave of attack from both sets of fans, with chants of "you're getting sacked in the morning'" ringing round Old Trafford as United take an early 2-0 lead.
Eden Hazard, Benitez's substitute, scores a superb goal to halve the deficit, prompting the Spaniard to rush frantically from the bench into the technical area, knowing his side can grab an equaliser and reduce the pressure in the week ahead.
Looks completely sure of himself after Ramires' equaliser, chatting with the bench with a less than modest grin
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