Sir Alex Ferguson last night described Rafael Benitez's outburst against him as "ridiculous" and the outpourings of a "disturbed" man as he basked in a win which left Luiz Felipe Scolari admitting Chelsea are three or four games away from throwing away any title hopes.
Manchester United's win leaves them five points behind Benitez's league leaders with two games in hand and provided a timely response to the Liverpool manager's attacks on him, which had continued on Saturday. "I think you've got to cut through the venom of it and hopefully he will reflect and understand that what he was saying was absolutely ... well, it was ridiculous," Ferguson said. "But I think he was an angry man. I think he was disturbed for some reason or another and that's all I've got to say about it. I don't understand where the venom came from."
Ferguson resisted the temptation to reflect more, other than to dismiss Benitez's suggestion that he had been delivering only facts. "They are not [facts]," he said. "I think we should concentrate on chasing the leaders."
Scolari cut a disconsolate figure as he reflected on a second-half disintegration from his side and said he did not know whether his side would take the league title. "If we play three or four more games like this we will not win [the league] but now is the time for me and the players to think about our future," he said. "Have we lost everything or are we men who can improve? Respond in the first of those ways and the team will be dead. I am not a man for this and neither are my players."
The result, Chelsea's first away defeat in 21 league games, had caused "very big damage to our title hopes," Scolari added.
Scolari brushed aside the fact that Chelsea, their humiliation here completed by the presence of Jose Mourinho – at Old Trafford to watch Internazionale's upcoming Champions League opponents – had managed a solitary point against the so-called top four. "The future is against other clubs. We were good until four or five games ago and then have gone down," he said. "I don't want more players."
Benitez might have claimed that Ferguson attempts to manipulate referees in United's favour, an assertion Jamie Carragher backed up in a Sky TV studio yesterday, but the Spaniard could have had no complaints about the decision of linesman Darren Cann to refuse United a goal just before their opener, in which the corner taker Wayne Rooney discreetly touched the ball a few inches into play, allowing Ryan Giggs to collect it, run towards goal and cross for Cristiano Ronaldo's header. Cann disallowed the goal because Rooney hadn't told him he had taken the corner.
Even Ferguson seemed confused. "Does he need to [tell the referee]? I don't think he does," the United manager said. Rooney, whose levels of dissent towards Cann were ugly to see, was adamant. "We worked on it in training," he said. "I've pushed it out of the D. The linesman's got it wrong."
Ferguson and Scolari agreed that Nemanja Vidic's opening goal, in added time in the first half, changed the course of the game, forcing Chelsea to attack and opening up space. "When we were walking in at half-time we saw all the Chelsea lads and their heads were down," said Rooney. "We knew we could go at them and attack them. They couldn't live with us." Ferguson's only concern is the latest back spasm for Rio Ferdinand yesterday morning, which forced him to miss a fifth game. Ferdinand will have a scan this morning.
Scolari said he had not heard abysmal Chelsea chants referring to Cristiano Ronaldo's crash in his Ferrari, in a tunnel on Thursday. "When I look at the crash and see the car I say pray every day for God and say thank you for life - because life is fantastic," Scolari said. After what he had just observed, it was hard to hold to that sentiment.