MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Manchester United host holders Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday with Alex Ferguson’s often fractious relationship with managerial counterpart Rafael Benitez poised for a ceasefire of sorts.
The pair regularly indulged in mind games before their north west derby clashes when Benitez was manager of United’s arch rivals Liverpool and the digs have resumed since the Spaniard was appointed interim boss at Chelsea in November.
But with Benitez enduring a torrid time and hugely unpopular among Chelsea fans, prompting him into an extraordinary tirade against both them and the board last month, Ferguson has laid off the jibes before this weekend’s Old Trafford encounter.
“I‘m not going to kick anyone when they are lying down, it’s not my style,” the United manager told a news conference on Friday.
“My concern is as manager of Manchester United, whatever happens at Chelsea doesn’t really affect me.”
With United still reeling from Tuesday’s Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid and the controversial red card for Nani that completely changed the game, Ferguson may not have been in the mood for any sniping.
Any repetition from Benitez of his often aired view that Ferguson puts undue pressure on match officials would seem inappropriate to United fans after what they perceived as a harsh dismissal for an inadvertent high challenge.
Like Ferguson, Benitez was more interested in putting behind him a difficult week in Europe after his side lost 1-0 at Steaua Bucharest in the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie on Thursday.
“It’s another competition and a different atmosphere, it will be totally different and another challenge for us,” he told reporters.
The subdued build-up to the pick of the weekend’s FA Cup quarter-finals is in contrast to previous exchanges between Ferguson and Benitez.
In 2009 Benitez infamously produced a hand-written list to back up his view that Ferguson was never punished for verbally abusing match officials and he also once joked the Scot drew up the fixtures list himself as it always favoured United.
Ferguson, meanwhile, branded Benitez “lucky” last year for walking into the Chelsea job, saying it would be the second time he had the chance to win a world club title without having to do anything and with a team put together by someone else.
Benitez succeeded Jose Mourinho after Inter Milan’s 2010 Champions League triumph but was sacked soon after their Club World Cup victory.
Both sides will be seeking to end a bad week on a high and Ferguson reckons United are in an ideal position because of the 12-point lead they hold at the top of the Premier League.
“We’ve got a healthy lead in the league which is a great position to be in, we can enjoy the cup on Sunday, that’s the value of it, make it a really good day for ourselves,” he said.
He said it was a tough fixture because of Chelsea’s great record in the competition in recent years. The Londoners have won it four times in the last six seasons, including in 2007 when they beat United in the final.
Ferguson, whose team lifted the last of their record 11 FA Cups in 2004, said home advantage could be key on Sunday.
“I always say if we are at home during the cup we’re happy, hopefully we can navigate it to get to the semi-final and give ourselves a chance of winning this cup,” he said.
Editing by Mark Meadows