Sir Alex Ferguson has called for solidarity with his club's great rivals. His Manchester United side go to Anfield on Sunday for a Premier League match. Emotions are running high following the release of the report that blamed the loss of 96 lives at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday on the South Yorkshire police among others.
Liverpool supporters were exonerated at last by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. Tribalism, however, does not disappear in an instant. Some United fans, mindful of the dispute that saw Liverpool's Luis Suárez banned for eight games last year after being found guilty of racially abusing their left-back, Patrice Evra, resorted to the chant of "Always the victims, it's never your fault" during the home match with Wigan on Saturday.
Ferguson said he had not been aware of the offending chant during the game but this was not an exercise in tactical deafness. The manager was at pains to make it clear that he knew the facts. "I didn't hear it," said Ferguson, "but others did, particularly in the directors' box. David Gill [the chief executive] was disappointed. It is a minority. But in society there is a minority wanting to be heard."
Ferguson is now using his authority to try and persuade fans that differences must be set aside. "It is going to be a very emotional day on Sunday and we will support them in every way we can," he said. "As a club we are totally supportive of Liverpool in the situation they are in. We understand what those families must have felt when they got that report."
These are great matters, yet the routines of football continue and Ferguson's team now return to the Champions League. The elite clubs have a better class of disappointment. Ferguson is rueful that his side have only won the European Cup twice in his reign. In many other boardrooms around the continent that would count as a golden age but a campaign that is about to open against Galatasaray at Old Trafford can almost be depicted as a means of atonement.
United did not survive the group phase last season and their pair of wins came against disadvantaged Otelul Galati, who had won the Romanian League for the first time to make their debut in the tournament. The setback was hardly the breaking of the Old Trafford club and the dip announced on Tuesday saw revenue taper off by just 3.3% to £320.3m for the year to 30 June. The figures depend to a degree on the efforts of players, and Ferguson knows how important the resilience of his lineup will be. "I think the key is to keep the defenders fit," he said. "I mean that. We had a rough ride with defenders being injured in the last two or three years. If they remain fit that gives us a better opportunity.
"With [Chris] Smalling and [Phil] Jones out long-term, I'm down to three centre-backs – [Nemanja] Vidic, [Rio] Ferdinand and [Jonny] Evans. If I could be guaranteed two would be fit for the rest of the season, I'd gladly take that right now."
Nonetheless, his general circumstances are not particularly disturbing. Wayne Rooney may be injured but that makes the summer acquisitions of Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa all the more important. The choices that Ferguson must make are hardly tormenting. He said that there is a "strong possibility" David de Gea will return in goal after Anders Lindegaard's inclusion for the previous two matches.
Resilience must be regained. Ferguson is keenly aware, for example, of the 3-3 draw with Basel at Old Trafford last season, calling it "the one where the criticism quite rightly lies. We were 2-0 up and playing well and got careless in the second half and ended up drawing. That ended up knocking us out, really.
"We had to go there [to Basel] and get a result and we ended up chasing our tails [in a 2-1 loss]. Hopefully our home form, which had been good for many years, will be good again."
It seems clear that complacency is one danger United will face this week. With the campaign in its early days, the side will be conscious there is much to prove. That applies on all fronts, with the Premier League trophy in Manchester City's possession, and the challenge now is for United to regain their expected authority.