Vieira has Benitez moment in battle of mind games

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'I want to talk about facts,' began Rafael Benitez during a routine weekly press conference at Anfield, but he soon proceeded to launch an astonishing broadside at Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Liverpool reigned supreme in the Premier League in January 2009, and Ferguson had complained that the season's fixture list had been biased against United.

Benitez had tolerated enough thinly-veiled jibes from his opposite number over the course of the season, and used his presser as an opportunity to provide a scripted five-minute critique of Ferguson.

The enduring memory for many of Benitez as Liverpool manager will be as he sat in front of local and national journalists with his notes scrawled on a piece of paper, and seemingly 'cracked up' in the full media glare.

Not only did Benitez lose the plot, but Liverpool surrendered their position at the summit of the league, and United went on to win a 18th league title by four points over their bitter rivals.

Along with Kevin Keegan's on air meltdown during the 1995/96 season, Benitez's rant will forever be remembered as the moment in which he lost the psychological battle for Ferguson.

It would, then, appear to be slightly odd - hypocritical, almost - that Benitez has urged Roberto Mancini not to become embroiled in a war of words with the United boss as Manchester City challenge the current champions for the league crown this season.

"As a manager you need to worry about your job and your team – not the mind games. People are talking about mind games with Man U and City," said Benitez, speaking at the Soccerex conference in Manchester.

"Both teams are very good teams and if City win their next match 5-0 people will say Mancini is not affected by the mind games. If they lose it's 'oh – the mind games.'

"When you have a lot of foreign players normally they don't read the newspapers so the mind games for them are nothing.

"I don't think that it's important or makes a big difference. The main thing is if you have a good team you can win all the mind games, if you don't have a good team you can't.

"I think it [the title race] will be tough until the end. City have enough quality and United have the confidence now and the experience."

It is, then, purely a coincidence that Benitez was offering his relative pearls of wisdom on the same day and at the same conference where Patrick Vieira seemingly directed a salvo straight at Manchester United.

The City executive claimed United receive preferential treatment from referees, in the wake of the latter escaping a clear penalty claim in Monday's narrow victory against Fulham.

"When United play at home, they may get some advantage that some other teams do not get," Vieira told BBC Sport.

He added: "I think when you go to United, Madrid, Barcelona, or Milan, when the referees referee these kind of games, it's always difficult to go against these kind of teams.

"This is the way it is."

Vieira has since responded in typically forthright fashion, and claims he was coaxed into passing comment on the accusation that United gain a helping hand from officials.

“I am very angry with [BBC reporter] Dan Roan," the former Arsenal captain said in a statement released on "I feel he has misrepresented me.

"I made it clear in the interview twice that I wanted to avoid criticising United and even stated that I didn’t watch the United game against Fulham and had not seen the incident to which the reporter referred."

Although Vieira was pursued by a very specific line of questioning and will argue he was backed into a corner somewhat, what he actually said is perfectly clear.

The Frenchman clearly stated that he believes United sometimes are the benefactors of decisions from referees at Old Trafford and, to borrow one of Benitez's phrases, this is a fact.

Vieira has clearly been very careful to make it seem he is not attempting to indulge in any sort of psychological warfare with his rivals, but his willingness to backtrack will have been greeted by one of Ferguson's classic wry smiles.

Without realising it, Vieira has provided United with a victory in the battle of the mind games by immediately rejecting claims he had attempted to upset the Old Trafford apple cart.

Just as when Benitez lost his cool over three years ago, Vieira's display of weakness has provided United with the extra fillip they need in the pursuit of glory once more.

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