LONDON: Marco Materazzi’s ability to infuriate opponents has extended from, notoriously, Zinedine Zidane to Rafa Benitez writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Materazzi’s comments about Zidane’s sister provoked the retaliatory headbutt which saw the French midfielder’s great career end in an ignominious red card at the end of extra time in the 2006 World Cup Final inBerlin.

In the first half of the 2010-11 season Materazzi, now 39, played under Benitez at Internazionale and has been quoted in reports in Italy as calling him “weak”.

Materazzi also claimed Benitez took down pictures of former boss Jose Mourinho from the dressing room and said playing under the Spaniard was “like being back at school.”

Materazzi added: “At Inter’s training centre there were photos on the wall of all the most successful past coaches. Benitez had the ones of Jose Mourinho taken down. With that gesture, he showed his character: that of a weak person.”

Benitez has been under heavy pressure ever since his appointment in October in succession to Roberto Di Matteo.

League Cup test

The underlying stress emerged from nature of his sharp reaction to Materazzi’s words as he prepared Chelsea for Wednesday’s League Cup semi-final return at Swansea. Needing to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit, Chelsea are up against it.

Asked about Materazzi’s comments, Benitez snapped: “Marco Materazzi is lying. He’s lying, just lying. Everything that he said is a lie. Simple. When he was talking with Mourinho it’s a lie, because nobody knew I was going to Inter, even me. It’s a lie.

“About the pictures, it’s a lie. So he’s a liar.”

Benitez denied suggestions he might start against Swansea with both Fernando Torres and Demba Ba up front.

He said: “It’s not easy for us to play both at the same time given the quality of the players playing behind. It’s an option for 15 minutes, and we can do it if necessary.

“We have to score and win. For them, it depends: 2-0 up, they could wait and play counter-attack. They could try to pass the ball and attack but I think they will wait for us.

“We have to go there and try to win. Not just 1-0 – we have to do a bit better than that. But we can do it. We have enough quality.”

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