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Benitez insists Abramovich era has seen Blues match Fergie feats

Rafa Benitez has taken another swipe at Alex Ferguson ahead of today's lunchtime FA Cup showdown, claiming that Chelsea have been as successful as Manchester United during Roman Abramovich's reign despite all of the managerial upheavals at Stamford Bridge.

Benitez, the interim manager, is the ninth man to take charge at Chelsea during Abramovich's time as owner.

In that time they have won the Premier League three times, the FA Cup on four occasions, the League Cup twice and the Champions League.

United have won the title four times, the FA Cup once, the League Cup three times and the Champions League.

"You can talk about strategies and philosophies but Chelsea have won as many trophies changing managers as United have won with the same manager," said Benitez.

"You are talking about two top sides with good players. We just have to try to be more consistent to the end of the season. It's a good question (is Ferguson the most powerful man in English football?) but I will not give you the answer. I just concentrate on doing my best and trying to win."

Fractious

Benitez and Ferguson's fractious relationship hit a new low after the first FA Cup quarter-final tie at Old Trafford last month, when the Chelsea boss accused the Scot of snubbing a handshake before kick-off.

Ferguson branded the claim as "absolute nonsense" but Benitez has hit back by declaring he will offer a handshake to the Manchester United manager today.

Benitez was so angered by Ferguson's apparent snub at the first game, which ended in a 2-2 draw (the Manchester United manager had also not made reference to Benitez in his programme notes) that he made an issue of it.

The two men have a fractious relationship, dating back to the Spaniard's time in charge at Liverpool.

"Why wouldn't I shake hands?" said Ferguson. "Have you ever seen me not shake hands with anyone? I never saw him, I was signing autographs. If he wanted to shake my hand, he could have stood in front of me."

The two men will come face to face for the first time since that incident at Stamford Bridge today, with a place in the semi-final of the FA Cup against Manchester City at Wembley the prize for the winner.

"I won't waste too much time with that," said Benitez. "You have the responsibility, a lot of people are watching you so I will shake hands with him and that's it. The other one is very simple, watch the DVD of the first match, not the repetition of what happened after, and it's very clear.

"I have to concentrate on my job. The biggest challenge is to be consistent and to win games. If we play at the level of some of the games we played two weeks ago we can beat anyone."

Chelsea go into today's game on the back of a defeat at Southampton, a loss which came after Benitez rested seven players at St Mary's. However he denied he was prioritising the replay.

"Chelsea have a lot of good players but to play two games a week for four months, it's not easy to keep the team at the same level all the time," he said. "You have a team in transition, a new manager, new players.

"United have the same manager for years and 80pc of the squad is the same. Chelsea are changing because they have brought in some good players but they still need to settle down and they have to be consistent.

"We are stronger than a lot of teams. You can see this in the last weeks, we played very good games and won some of them. We can play very good football and compete against anyone. United are at the top of the table but we were much better than them in the first game.

"So I think we can compete. The question is when you play two games in three days, it has been the same for four months maybe, it's not easy. I think we are doing well for the situation that we have."

Benitez has also pointedly contrasted his limited attacking options with those of Ferguson ahead and claimed that United's Premier League dominance is down to the strength of their squad. With Chelsea outspending United by more than £300m on wages and transfer fees in recent years, Benitez's assessment hardly reflects favourably on his employers, but he believes Chelsea were the "much better" team when drawing 2-2 at Old Trafford three weeks ago.

"They are top of the table because they have a very strong squad – just analyse the four strikers they have and we only have two," he said, contrasting United's ability to call on Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck, while he had to rely on Fernando Torres and Demba Ba.

"It was a problem when we had just Torres but with Ba we have two options. We have offensive players with enough quality to create but, in some positions, to find the balance and play so many games is not easy."

Benitez is expected to restore David Luiz, Ashley Cole, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Paulo Ferreira, Demba Ba and possibly Gary Cahill into his starting team. The Chelsea manager believes that victory today would have a galvanising impact on his team.

"It will be a boost for everyone," he said. "I think we can manage it if everything is going well. It is a big game against a good side but we saw at Old Trafford that we can do it and we will try to do it." (©Independent News Service)

Irish Independent