“Ferguson, when everything is said and done, loves to see Liverpool hanging on United’s coat-tails” – Daniel Taylor

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “Anyone who manages Liverpool is always a rival to me. Over the years there’s been Kenny [Dalglish], Roy [Evans], Gerard [Houllier]… Who? Oh Graeme [Souness], Christ, sorry. I’ll get one of his tackles next time I see him! Liverpool have had a few managers. They are always going to be our main rivals, it doesn’t matter who manages Liverpool, no matter the position in the league. It’s about history. Liverpool has always been our derby game geographically, historically, the two cities, the two most successful clubs in Great Britain. When they get together, you expect sparks to fly. You hope there is plenty of good football and a respect – which in the main there has been between both sets of players.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Runner-up: “I’m rather amateur in this. You go to a philosophical approach: is a human being worth £1 or £200 million to perform. Is it worth spending that money for someone to perform? Some people might think so, but I don’t have the right answer on that. It is difficult to say whether it’s amoral for £100 million, but £50 million is moral… I can imagine that John Terry will stay until the end of his career. There’s more than money in this. There’s also the culture of the club, a history with the club. The club made it very clear that they want to continue forever with John.” – Guus Hiddink.

Today’s overview: The main topics in today’s backpages are forecasts ahead of Liverpool’s visit to Old Trafford, a criticism of UEFA’s decision to house the Champions league final in Rome, and there is also good news for Hammers’ fans.

Stoking up to animosity between Manchester United and Liverpool, Daniel Taylor writes that “Ferguson, when everything is said and done, loves to see Liverpool hanging on United’s coat-tails.” Oliver Kay throws fuel on the fire in a feature on how United can equal the Reds’ record of 18 league titles this season. “It seems incredible that, over the course of the Premier League era, or indeed the football lifetime of Ryan Giggs, United have gone from seven league titles to, seemingly, the threshold of their eighteenth, a magical number that would bring them level with Liverpool, who have not won it since 1990.”

Ian Herbert argues that Rafa’s rant has affected Sir Alex saying “Benitez has taken up from Arsene Wenger the mantle of the introspective continental whom Ferguson does not comprehend and whom he has come to fear.” And keeping focus on the Reds’ boss, Andy Hunter pulls out an amazing stat on Rafa Benitez. “Benitez will replace Bill Shankly as the third fastest Liverpool manager to reach 100 league wins should he triumph in forthcoming games against Aston Villa, Fulham or… at Manchester United this afternoon. It is an impressive feat by any standards, but remarkable given how often the Spaniard has stood accused of sending his team ambling out of the blocks.”

It is left for Terry Venables to latest criticism of Benitez, as the Sun columnist charged the Spaniard with having a need to be liked. “I was slightly alarmed by the Liverpool manager’s claims this week that his team do not get the recognition or appreciation they deserve. Why worry what others think of you? You are never going to please all of the people all of the time… You cannot make people like you — and you cannot make people respect you. I do not understand why Rafa appears to be so hung up on this.”

In the top rumour this Saturday, and without any evidence to back himself up, James Olley farts “Jose Mourinho wants to take over at Real Madrid after deciding to quit Inter Milan at the end of the season.”

Some still find themselves hung up on the power of the Big Four in the Champions League, David Lacey concluding “the Premier League’s domination largely reflects the fact that its foreign imports are better than everybody else’s, the brilliance of an Englishman, Steven Gerrard, in Liverpool’s 4–0 rout of Real Madrid on Tuesday notwithstanding.”

And staying with the Champions League, Des Kelly goes nuts about the final being in Rome. “Beautiful and romantic as it is, the character of the Italian capital changes when European football drops in among the relics and trattorias. Suddenly, the knives come out and the dimly lit, tree-lined streets around the Olympic Stadium become the scene for a sinister game of dare, with potentially fatal consequences.”

On the race for fourth spot Phil Shaw tries to identify where Aston Villa’s recent downturn has come from. “Another factor in Villa’s blip is their relative inactivity during the January transfer window. O’Neill signed only one player, Wigan Athletic’s Emile Heskey, and though he has enjoyed a positive relationship with Villa’s American owner, Randy Lerner, he was disappointed by not being able to bring in the players he targeted.”

There is good news for West Ham this Saturday, Gary Jacob claiming that since the Carlos Tevez affair has been resolved “one serious bidder is thought to be edging closer to a deal [to buy West Ham, while] the resolution of the issue is likely to lead to the departure of Scott Duxbury as chief executive of West Ham.” And the positive tidings extend further, Jason Burt announcing “West Ham United are planning to offer Gianfranco Zola an improved new contract at the end of the season to reward the Italian for a highly promising start to his managerial career.”

Patrick Barclay uses his weekend column in The Times to state the case for David Moyes to replace Sir Alex when he finally ends his tenure at Old Trafford. “Moyes gets the best out of just about everyone and has the Ferguson trait of being quick to recognise and discard exceptions.”

In the Saturday interviews, Amy Lawrence speaks to Ledley King about how the part-time Spurs captain is sick of discussing his wounded knee, Ashely Young explains to how “[Spurs] didn’t want to pay the fee and I’m delighted to have signed for Villa,” while Steven Ireland tells Ian Ladyman about how he turned around his career.