Ferguson BenitezThe game of the season is upon us. United take on Liverpool at Old Trafford. It is the first fixture I look at when the match days are released at the beginning of the season and for the weeks preceding that match I feel an odd combination of sickness, excitement and nerves. No result compares to the brilliant feeling of getting one over on the dippers, but equally, the frustration and sadness that comes with losing to our hateful rivals cannot be measured against any other defeat. So as we get closer to “Grand Slam Sunday”, or whatever those mugs at Sky Sports are calling it, the feelings of anticipation, excitement and dread are heightened.

Rafa Benitez, the man who has been comically hailed by dippers as bringing about the “Rafalution” at Liverpool, has today spoken out about Ferguson, in a bid to sway the referees in his favour. In his reign as Liverpool manager, he has played against United 8 times. Of those 8 games, United have won 6, drawn 1 and lost 1. Out of the 21 league points on offer in those matches, United have picked up 19, Liverpool just the 1. Is it therefore any wonder Benitez is looking for all the help he can get?

Following the poor treatment of Cristiano Ronaldo in the Premiership, Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken out several times asking for better protection of his young winger. As the most fouled player in the Premiership last season, and part of the most fouled team in the Premiership this season, Ronaldo has also asked for the same thing (contrary to the false claims Wenger was whinging about a couple of weeks ago).

Ferguson has criticised the referees who allow the opposition to get away with fouling Ronaldo very vocally, going as far as saying referee boss, Keith Hackett, was not doing his job properly.

Today, Benitez has claimed that Fergie was making these statements simply to get the rub of the green in Sunday’s match against Liverpool.

“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.”

He acknowledges Fergie is a clever and experienced man, but claims Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard need as much protection as Ronaldo. This is a rather odd claim, considering Ronaldo is currently the 4th most fouled player in the Premiership, whilst Gerrard and Torres don’t even make it in to the top 20 most fouled players. In fact, Liverpool don’t have a single player in the top 20 most fouled, but I’m sure Benitez isn’t making this comments about his players needing protection with the intention of getting the ref on side.

“Ferguson is very clever and has a lot of experience,” he continued. “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.”

Who will come out on top on Sunday? Fergie or Benitez?