Kenny Dalglish has said Liverpool have their "house in order" ahead of the emotive FA Cup tie against Manchester United and that both clubs have done all they can to prevent further controversy arising at Anfield.
The Liverpool manager and his United counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson, called for supporters to focus solely on football on the eve of the fourth-round match, which comes three months after the Premier League game at Anfield that led to Patrice Evra making a complaint of racist abuse against Luis Suárez and the Uruguay international receiving an eight-match ban as a result.
Suárez is expected to be at Anfield as he serves the penultimate game of his suspension but the United manager refused to discuss whether Evra will start the game, as Mike Phelan, Ferguson's assistant, has indicated he would. Dalglish described the tension and controversy surrounding the game as "a sideshow", and believes it will remain secondary to a Cup tie between England's biggest clubs should Liverpool produce a repeat of their impressive performance against Manchester City in the Carling Cup semi-final on Wednesday on and off the pitch.
The Liverpool manager said: "We want the fantastic support we had the other night and there's no reason to think we're not going to get that. Anything else is a sideshow for us. We don't want anyone to lose sight of what it is and we don't want our supporters to lose sight of how important they are vocally to us. We certainly don't want the players to lose sight – and I don't think they will – of the competitiveness in the game. We have to compete and do things properly and it's the same for the supporters. They have been magnificent throughout our history and I am sure they will continue to do that.
"I'm sure there will be banter going back and forth between both sets of fans and as long as it's respectful then there won't be a problem. Not only the people who are involved directly the game, but those writing about the game have a responsibility not to run away from what has happened but to act responsibly and not be imagining things that haven't happened."
United have an increased ticket allocation of 5,319 for the Cup meeting and Ferguson is confident there will be no problems at Anfield. "As Steven Gerrard was saying, it's the responsibility of players to behave properly. That's what I expect my players to do and also the fans," the United manager said. "Both sets of fans have got to make sure that we end up talking about the game and nothing else. I'm confident we can just concentrate on the football. We've been to Anfield already this season and our fans were terrific."
Dalglish, Ferguson, Gerrard and Liverpool's managing director, Ian Ayre, have all appealed for calm this week, while the Liverpool manager uses his notes in the match-day programme to ask that the "atmosphere isn't tarnished in any way." The two clubs have liaised closely with the Football Association and Merseyside police in recent weeks and Dalglish believes, that with a worldwide audience looking on, the right example will be set.
"We will. The supporters will," he insisted. "We have got our house in order and I'm sure along the East Lancs Road they will be saying exactly the same thing. The best thing for everybody to be focused on is the football pitch, and that's where we want people's attention to be on.
"If something goes off, then it goes off. If it's bad news, then there is not much anyone else could have done about it. I don't think either of the two football clubs can be held responsible if it doesn't go as well as everybody hopes it will do. On previous evidence, the two sets of fans are becoming more respectful for each other. They won't be sending Christmas cards to each other, but they are becoming more respectful."
Dalglish is unconcerned about Wednesday's semi-final taking its toll on Liverpool three days later. "It is better to play than to train," he said. Ferguson also believes Liverpool's passage to Wembley could be a factor in the FA Cup. "They've got a great lift," the United manager said. "They were far better than City on the night and but for Joe Hart it could have been quite a big scoreline. Winning is always important."
United have not won at Anfield in their last four visits, losing three, but Ferguson admits he and his players should thrive on its intimidating atmosphere. He added: "I think the atmosphere for our games at Anfield is terrific. You work all your life to get to a point where you are challenged like that, or your team is challenged like that. We had a good record at Anfield until about two or three years ago. Since then the results have not been great for us, we have not done as well as we used to do, but you would expect that when you have a rivalry between two great clubs."