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If Liverpool's title tilt continues to falter throughout the remainder of the campaign, a very large portion of the blame will fall upon manager Rafael Benitez's already burdened shoulders.

The Spanish tactician was asking for trouble when he launched an astonishing assault on Sir Alex Ferguson, declaring that the Manchester United boss is a protected species in the eyes of the Premier League disciplinary panel.

The Merseysiders performances have taken a remarkable dive since then; indeed, last weekend's nervy triumph over Chelsea was their first league win of 2009.

The whole affair has brought back memories of Kevin Keegan's famous outburst during the 1995-96 season, which preceded Newcastle United's astonishing collapse in the title race.

The Red Devils were the beneficiaries then, and Rio Ferdinand reckons Benitez's comments could have a similar impact as the current campaign edges toward the business end.

The England defender said in The Sun, “[Benitez] fell into the hole. That's something big in football, the psychology.â€

United hold a two-point lead and a game in hand over Liverpool, who topped the table heading into the New Year.
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