Authorities prepare for incendiary Liverpool and Manchester United tie

• Suárez/Evra saga casts shadow over FA Cup tie
• Steven Gerrard: 'We all have a responsibility'

In Sir Alex Ferguson's mind there was no reason for Manchester United to enter peace talks with Liverpool in the fallout from the Luis Suárez affair. "It is nice of them to do it through the press," he said in response to proposals from Liverpool. "You would have thought they would come to Manchester United first. I do not see why there is any need for it but I have nothing to say about it."

The opprobrium poured on his great rivals and old adversary Kenny Dalglish was of their own making. It was not United's place to offer support and why should they when Patrice Evra, a victim of racist abuse according to an independent tribunal appointed by the Football Association, was the only player condemned in official statements from Anfield?

But then came the draw for the FA Cup fourth round. Things changed. It was no longer about Liverpool easing tensions before their league trip to Old Trafford on 11 February, which is set to be Suárez's first appearance at an away ground once his eight-match suspension is complete and was the original motivation for talks between the clubs. It is now about United, Evra and 5,319 of their supporters returning to Anfield in the FA Cup three months on from the controversy that damaged Liverpool's reputation, and the two biggest clubs in English football having a duty to act before a fixture that will be played before a global television audience.

Despite Ferguson's reservations and authority, a meeting has been held in recent days between the Liverpool and United hierarchies to discuss ways of avoiding potential problems before, during and after Saturday's tie. Ferguson himself has written to all United fans in possession of a ticket, urging them to give "the sort of support you are famous for", albeit in the hope that the club's reduced ticket allocation will be increased for future games at Anfield. Representatives from the FA this week visited Carrington and Melwood, United's and Liverpool's respective training grounds, to remind players and staff of their responsibilities to the game and have also written to all parties to reinforce that point.

Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, is confident the message has been understood. "We do all have a responsibility," he said. "With fair play going on and the campaigns that have been going on for a long time we all have a responsibility to ensure that this game is remembered for the football. Liverpool and Man United is a massive rivalry and of course there is going to be stuff in the papers and banter between fans but it would be fantastic if after the weekend it is remembered for being a top game and obviously, from our point of view, a Liverpool win. We don't want any front-page stories from this game or any stories besides a football match between two top sides, and may the best team win."

The FA will have a crowd control adviser at Anfield and has been involved in strategy meetings involving Merseyside Police and representatives from the two clubs. As the alleged racist abuse of the Oldham Athletic defender Tom Adeyemi demonstrated this month in the FA Cup third round at Anfield, clubs are at the mercy of individual behaviour. However, the police, although they do not disclose operational details such as the number of officers on duty, will have an increased presence in and around the ground on Saturday.

The match commander, chief superintendent Jon Ward of Merseyside Police, said: "If there's any unlawful behaviour we will take action. There is CCTV in place and through working with both clubs we will identify anyone responsible and take robust action."

There has been no joint statement or public initiative to appeal for restraint from Liverpool and United, an option taken by Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers before their similarly emotive tie this weekend. That is in keeping with a deliberately low-key buildup to the 184th meeting between the north-west rivals.

Evra is expected to play and face the wrath of Anfield, with Suárez expected to be watching from the crowd as he serves the penultimate game of his ban. Viv Anderson, the former United defender, said: "Patrice should definitely play, 100%.

"There will be a backlash but he did nothing wrong, so why should he not play? He is experienced enough and old enough to deal with it. It won't be the first time he's been verbally attacked. If you cannot deal with it then you are never going to make a career for yourself. Patrice is at Manchester United playing in the Premier League and is a French international. He has proved that he is able to stand up to all the outside pressures that have been heaped on him as he's built his career.

"It is not right you have to put up with racial abuse but I am sure it has happened to him in the past. I don't think playing at Anfield after what has gone on will bother him. There will always be something else around the corner and if you keep worrying about something then you will fold and disappear."

comments powered by Disqus