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Preview: Liverpool v United

Ed September 22, 2012 Tags: , Matches 137 comments

There is an acute media focus on Manchester United’s trip to Liverpool this Sunday for well document reasons, with Sir Alex Ferguson demanding visiting fans do nothing to provoke embarrassment at Anfield. Yet, while less attention is focused on pitchside matters than usual there is still a pivotal game in play, with United seeking a fifth win in six Premier League games this term. Moreover, with the Reds having failed to win at Anfield in nearly five years Ferguson’s men are certainly due a result Sunday lunchtime.

Liverpool versus United has always evoked memories of great matches and intense rivalry. This weekend’s match is likely to be both poignant and tense given the contents of the Independent Hillsborough Panel report, released two week’s ago, together with controversy over United supporters anti-Liverpool chants sung against Wigan Athletic last weekend.

Add the background of Luis Suarez’ racial abuse of Patrice Evra in the same fixture last season, and the clash becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.

United’s 3,000 travelling fans are under the spotlight, although match-going Reds have long had plenty to say about the opposition’s behaviour regarding the Munich disaster. But this is no time for moral relativism; it is a time for mutual and solemn respect of those who have been lost. With flowers set to be laid by Ferguson and Si Bobby Charlton at the Kop, and captains Nemanja Vidić and Steven Gerrard releasing 96 red balloons, it is unthinkable that supporters on either side will behave in a way unbecoming of two great clubs.

On the pitch United has failed to produce either the performances or results at Anfield recently – Ferguson’s men have failed to win on Merseyside since December 2007. But neither side has started the campaign in top gear, although somehow United has ground out four wins from five matches despite some shockingly poor defensive performances.

As so often in recent seasons it is in midfield where the questions of Ferguson’s men will most be asked, with the Scot facing a key decision about how many men, and whom, to deploy in support of Michael Carrick in central midfield in what will be a keenly fought encounter.

“In tight games like this you know there are not going to be a lot of goals,” Ferguson told the press on Friday.

“It will be an odd-goal victory for either side or maybe a draw. Our away form last year was terrific, one of the best years we have had away from home. We hope that continues. We want to make sure we do our best and represent ourselves in the proper way. That is the key for us on Sunday, just to enjoy it. Once the whistle goes, go and win the game. That should be our attitude.”

Ferguson, blessed with no fresh injuries after United’s laboured win over Galatasaray on Wednesday night, brings. Rio Ferdinand back into central defence along side captain Vidić, with Jonny Evans dropping to the bench. Howevr, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Anderson remain on the sidelines with injury.

Ferguson will choose between Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa in central midfield.

“Everyone who was involved on Wednesday is available,” added Ferguson.

“I know there were reports in the paper about Rooney being possible, but that is not the case. He’s not far away, I think he may be fine for next week. He’s doing a lot of great training and has been working hard. It’s just a matter of getting him into the full football training side of things, which he has done part of.

“Ashley Young has got a bruised cartilage – I think it’s going to take two or three weeks more for him. We’re just taking our time with that one. You can easily play with it and train but we’re not going down that road, we want to make sure he’s okay. We get a lot of experiences these days of injuries reoccurring when they come back too quickly and we don’t want that with the players – we want to give them a full recovery. He should be okay with two or three weeks’ time.”

Liverpool v Manchester United - Premier League, Anfield - Sunday 23 September 2012, 1.30pmAlthough Darren Fletcher made a late appearance from the bench against the Turkish champions the Scot is not expected to feature at Anfield, where United has lost four matches in the last five visits. Ferguson side has also seemingly been unable to keep 11 men on the pitch for many of those encounters.

“Darren made a start on Wednesday which was great,” added Ferguson.

“He won’t start the match on Sunday but he’ll certainly play against Newcastle. I think that’s a perfect game for him to start back. Then we have the game against Tottenham next Saturday and he possibly could be involved in that, but it depends how he does on Wednesday.

“It’ll be his first full 90 minutes after 10 months out so it’ll be a big night for him. He’s handling the conditions at the moment and he looks fine as we saw the other night. It’s a matter of hoping the condition stays dormant. He’s handling his diet well and doing all the right things so hopefully he gets that break he needs.”

Meanwhile, Ferguson is seeking to build on an indifferent start to the season, with his side picking up four victories in a row but not always with performances that match results. The hosts can lay no claim for better form, having slumped to 18th in the Premier League after suffering two defeats in the club’s opening four matches.

Tough time, then, for Brendan Rodgers, whose tika-taka sensibilities are being tested by media criticism of the neat but unpenetrative Joe Allen, and Gerrard’s insistence on wastefully hitting the Hollywood ball at every turn.

Yet, it is not only United supporters, but players too, who believe that Liverpool reserves an annual ‘Cup Final performance’ for the Anfield rendezvous with United.

“Liverpool haven’t started so well so I’m sure this will be like a cup final,” adds Cleverley, who missed the fixture last season with injury and may stand aside for Paul Scholes on Sunday.

“Meanwhile, we’ve won our last three games so we’re hoping to build on that. It’s important we maintain that momentum. It’s a massive game for the team. But I think form goes out of the window in these fixtures. It’s more like a one-off game. They’re great occasions. Growing up as a United fan, I’ve watched about 20 or 30 of these games, so I know exactly what this fixture means to everybody associated with the club. I just hope we can get the right result.”

That result will depend on whether United can get control in central midfield – an area that looks threadbare with at least one of 38-year-old Scholes and 39-year-old Giggs likely to start.

And if that is shocking, then United’s supporters need not add to the feeling on what is likely to be an emotional day on Merseyside.

Match Details
Liverpool v Manchester United – Premier League, Anfield – Sunday 23 September 2012, 1.30pm

Possible Teams
Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina; Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Gerrard, Sahin, Allen; Borini, Suarez, Sterling. Subs from: Jones, Doni, Enrique, Carragher, Coates, Assaidi, Downing, Shelvey, Henderson, Cole, Flanagan.

United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Valencia, Kagawa, Nani; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Evans, Büttner, Powell, Giggs, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Valencia, Macheda, Young, Hernández, Welbeck

Officials
Referee: M Halsey
Assistants: S Child, M McDonough
Fourth Official: L Probert

Form
Liverpool: DDLDW
United: LWWWW

Head-to-Head
Last 10: Liverpool 5, United 4, Draw 1
Overall: Liverpool 62, United 72, Draw 51

Stats

  • Suarez’ second-hald equaliser earned Liverpool a point away to Sunderland last weekend, with manager Rogers praising the player’s influence;
  • However, the Uruguayan ranks first on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for shots off target this season with 12. The striker also tops the charts for yellow cards, with three and is the only striker in the top ten;
  • Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey was the hardest working player from either side away to Sunderland last weekend, covering 6.16 miles;
  • Meanwhile, Allen has continued his adaptation to life on Merseyside, receiving the ball 211 times in Liverpool’s opening matches, a club-leading figure;
  • Allen is also third overall in Index for distance covered with 25.22 miles, having covered more ground than any other Liverpool player in three of his four games for the club;
  • Midfield partner Gerrard successfully completed 42 passes in the opponent’s half and three crosses against Sunderland;
  • Scholes’ midfield masterclass was the catalyst behind a thumping 4-0 win at home for United against Wigan last weekend.
  • At 37 Scholes continues to provide an effective return for the time he spends on the pitch – the midfielder makes a successful pass in his opponent’s half once every two minutes and 14 seconds;
  • Debutant Alexander Büttner was United’s second fastest player against Wigan, clocking 19.84mph;
  • Carrick continues to go about effective work in the midfield for United, having played more minutes than any other team-mate this season – 390;
  • Carrick also covered more ground than any other United player last weekend against Wigan, working hard for 6.39 miles;
  • The ever-reliable Antonio Valencia continues with a steadfast level of performance this season – the Ecuadorian has made 55 successful passes in the attacking third, more than any other United player.

Prediction
0-1

Ferguson plays on fans’ conscience

Ed September 22, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 9 comments

Will Manchester United supporters attract the ire of the nation’s press this Sunday? Perhaps, although there can be no guarantee of the cause ahead of the weekend’s clash with Liverpool at Anfield. Certainly, while the fourth estate awaits the merest glimpse of anti-Liverpool sentiment from away supporters this weekend, controversy could rear its head, whether real or augmented, for any manner of reasons.

This is, after all, the biggest game in the country, and Liverpool versus United has become the premier flashpoint of the domestic season. Last season’s clash at Anfield where Luis Suarez racially abused Patrice Evra is a case in point.

But it is to the fans’ songs that attention will be firmly focussed on Sunday – a day that promises to be an emotional one for Liverpool supporters, and a test of nerve for those at the other end of the East Lancs Road. Indeed, such is the desire for the day to pass off without incident that United on Friday published a letter in Sir Alex Ferguson’s name calling on Manchester’s Reds to observe the ‘best traditions’ of the club.

“The great support you gave the team here last season has seen our allocation back up to near-full levels,” wrote Ferguson in a letter that will be given to United fans entering the Anfield Road turnstiles on Sunday.

“I want you to continue that progress today. But today is about much more than not blocking gangways. Today is about thinking hard about what makes United the best club in the world. Our rivalry with Liverpool is based on a determination to come out on top – a wish to see us crowned the best against a team that held that honour for so long. It cannot and should never be based on personal hatred.

“Just ten days ago, we heard the terrible, damning truth about the deaths of 96 fans who went to watch their team try and reach the FA Cup final and never came back. What happened to them should wake the conscience of everyone connected with the game.

“Our great club stands with our great neighbours Liverpool today to remember that loss and pay tribute to their campaign for justice. I know I can count on you to stand with us in the best traditions of the best fans in the game.”

Indeed, had United beaten Nottingham Forest in the 1989 FA Cup quarter-final, Ferguson’s team would have joined Liverpool in the Hillsborough semi. It could so easily have been 96 United fans who failed to return as those from Merseyside.

In truth, while Ferguson makes no direct call for United supporters to refrain from singing the ‘always the victim, it’s never your fault’ chant that caused so much media furore, any rendition of that particular song is what the United manager most fears.

With the nation’s media in no mood to hear subtleties of argument, the reproach will likely be severe should even a modicum of Mancunian animosity be heard at Anfield. Whether it relates to Hillsborough, or not.

Far more likely, however, is that United fans will direct any hatred – despite Sir Alex’ call for détente – not at Hillsborough’s victims, but Suarez – an easy target in the circumstances. On a day when Liverpool will remember those who were not only lost at Hillsborough, but betrayed by the state, even the most bone-headed among United’s support  know where that Rubicon lays.

On the Kop attention will be elsewhere; certainly far enough away to distract Liverpudlians from the kind behaviour that United supporters have been accused of in the past week. However, Patrice Evra is unlikely to escape Anfield’s venom for his part in being racially abused last October. It remains hard to square media reaction to Evra’s victimisation on the grounds of race with coverage of United’s ‘chanting’ over the past week.

“We want this day to be remembered for the right reasons before the game, and the footballing reasons”, added Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.

“A lot of work has been done and hopefully Sunday will pass off peacefully and we can talk about the tributes and football. It is an emotionally-charged game. I wouldn’t sit here and tell Liverpool supporters how to behave. I know how they have behaved over many years has been fantastic.

On the day captains Nemanja Vidic and Steven Gerard will release 96 red balloons over Anfield, while a mosaic along three sides of the ground will read “96, Justice and Truth”. Ferguson, alongside Sir Bobby Charlton, will lay flowers at the Kop. It is a reminder that while England’s fiercest rivalry has lost none of it’s intensity, some events transcend the game.

Then, prior to kick-off, Premier League rules demand that Evra and Suarez come together for the handshake that never was at Old Trafford last February. It is an event that may yet set the tone for the game to come.

In the stands there will be more United fans at Anfield than in previous years, with Liverpool council now content that supporters will not block exits and gangways following a high profile supporters’ group campaign last season. It means Ferguson’s side will receive full and rowdy support from the Anfield Road.

Manager and club hope that it will be support in the very best spirit. In that there is responsibility not solely on United supporters, but those in the home end too.

Response and responsibility

Ed September 16, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 44 comments

Strange thing, morality. Set in stone, yet so easily swayed by the prevailing wind. This week’s events at Old Trafford are a case in point after the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report into the disaster in which 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives 23 years ago.

More than two decades after the event, the Panel’s report rightly exonerates Liverpool supporters of any blame in the crush at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, while uncovering an extraordinary police conspiracy to bury the truth from public view. It is a modicum of justice for the 96, far too late for families that have suffered more than 20 years.

Rivalries wait for no grief though, and on Saturday after manager Sir Alex Ferguson called for ‘a line to be drawn in the sand’ regarding hostilities between Manchester United and Liverpool fans, a section of the Old Trafford chanted an oft-sung refrain; the ditty claiming Liverpool supporters are ‘always the victim’ and ‘never at fault’. You know the one.

The song, which taps into a long-held and patently offensive stereotype of Liverpudlians, does not mention Hillsborough, nor will United supporters recognise it as ever having related to the tragedy. Yet, in the context of the week, and an upcoming match at Anfield, it was morally and ethically wrong of fans to have given this particular song an airing, at this particular time.

United had little choice but to condemn the chant on Saturday night, claiming in a statement that “the manager has made the club’s position very clear on this matter. It is now up to the fans to respect that”.

Media outrage from the fourth estate is predictable; so too a misunderstanding of the song’s origins and meaning to the point of crass misinformation. Repeatedly, broadsheet, broadcast and tabloids alike have painted the chant, and United supporters as a whole, as seeking to besmirch the memories of Hillsborough’s victims. Neither claim is remotely valid, and the untruth, together with selective coverage, has irked plenty of Reds this weekend.

Good though that the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust joined the condemnation party, while clarify a hugely misrepresented event.

“Following this week’s developments and release of revelatory information on the Hillsborough tragedy, MUST wishes to make it absolutely clear that just as we condemn chants mocking the Munich air disaster we also condemn any chants relating to Hillsborough or indeed any other human tragedy,” said MUST chief executive Duncan Drasdo.

“We did hear the usual anti-Liverpool chants at the match today but we’re pleased to say, despite some reports to the contrary, there was nothing that was specifically referencing Hillsborough. Any attempt to suggest otherwise is irresponsible given the forthcoming fixture between the clubs and furthermore risks needlessly upsetting the bereaved families further at a time when they are understandably trying to find closure. We enjoy a fierce rivalry but these issues transcend that rivalry.”

Yet, United fans must also be honest about why the chant, which has received an airing at almost every match, without media comment,  since the Suarez-Evra race affair erupted last year, was sung once again on Saturday. Defiance and offence the design.

In the wake of this weekend’s drama collective responsibility is a watch-word United supporters must now heed, especially with tensions likely to be high at Anfield next weekend.

But amid the media’s moral outrage our nation’s press also bears a weight. Media shapes opinion as much it reflects it. Misinformation serves only to raise tensions, while failing readers in a duty of truth. The press cannot, as some have suggested this weekend, absolve itself of partial culpability for the febrile atmosphere between two of the world’s most venerated clubs.

And the truth is this: there are genuinely few Reds who wish to offend the friends and family of Liverpool’s departed. The masses caged, supporters of football in the 1980s know only too well there but for the grace went they. More to the point, tragedy is a subject so very close to home for those starboard of the East Lancashire Road.

In the wake of renewed interest in Hillsborough it is more important than ever that supporters show restraint at Anfield next weekend. There will, no doubt, be provocation from the Kop, with Patrice Evra, a victim of racist abuse, likely to bear the brunt of it. So too will references to Munich be heard or seen.

But this is absolutely no time for moral relativism. It is a time for United supporters to remember the great institution that they follow, and behave in a manner more fitting. The same, some might add, could be said for sections of the media this weekend.

Even so, few can genuinely expect hands across the water on Sunday, and not because of what United fans sang or meant during the Reds’ 4-0 victory over Wigan Athletic at the weekend. Rivalry between United and Liverpool has suffered nothing in intensity despite the Merseyside outfit’s fall from domestic hegemony.

Of more pertinence still is the degradation in football’s moral compass, where there are no longer boundaries in lowbrow opportunism. And that’s a candle that can be held to supporters of all denominations. United, Liverpool and others alike.

The hire race

Ed May 18, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 52 comments

There will come a day when Sir Alex Ferguson’s name is associated not with Manchester United’s dug-out, but the North Stand at Old Trafford. It may not be in the coming summer, nor perhaps until the 70-year-old Scot is carried from the Theatre of Dreams in a box, but a change, as Sam Cooke once promised, is gonna come.

United’s stability under Ferguson, driven by the Scot’s obsessive-compulsive requirement for total control, is an outlier in football, where the average tenure of a Premier League manager is just 24 months. Moreover, the trend is increasingly away from the dictatorial model practiced in Manchester.

Yet, overseas owners at Chelsea and Liverpool will be looking enviously at Old Trafford as a model for storied and stable success as those clubs reach out to the market for new managers this summer.

But one day soon David Gill and the Glazer family will go through the same process now underway at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, of recruiting not only Ferguson’s successor, but the quality of manager demanded by a club of United’s stature. Yet, true to United’s cloak and dagger modus operandi it is highly unlikely that the club will hold any formal search, selection and interview the process for the role.

Indeed, football is one of the few industries remaining where senior executives are appointed, frequently on multi-million pound contracts, and then given even larger capex budgets, without any hint of due diligence. In other industries people would, quite literally, go to prison for the crass neglect of fiduciary duty.

Contrast this approach with the typical Fortune 500, or other large corporation, where an executive can expect to beat off potentially hundreds of candidates through a four or five round interview process, technical exercises and psychometric, intelligence, mathematics, language and logic testing. Often this process involves both interviews by the corporation’s board, executive management and outside consultants.

Even known candidates, whose track record is not in doubt, can still expect a due diligence process if only to ensure cultural fit at the highest levels of management.

Yet, football is an industry that is “different” Rant was told by one experienced journalist today; a sector where fickle fans, apparently, will not accept that there should be a process for finding the best candidate, leaving owners to appoint on a wing and a prayer. It is, of course, rank nonsense that helps explain the criminal failure rate of football management appointments.

No surprise, then, with the mocking tone of media coverage of Liverpool’s search and selection process for Kenny Dalglish’s successor at Anfield. Fenway Sports Group, led by Boston Red Sox’ owner John W Henry, has drawn up a long-list of candidates, including André Villas-Boas, Pep Guardiola, Didier Deschamps, Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martínez whom, prudently, they would like to interview for the post.

Burned by Dalglish, an employee who spent more than £100 million on new players, but whose track record includes just two trophies in the past 20 years, FSG has set about deepening the due diligence process this time around. It is surely a sensible move.

To put Dalglish’s failure in context, while the Scot’s wages were around £4 million per annum, his spending was more than 50 per cent of Liverpool’s annual revenues. This is akin to newly IPO’d Facebook offering a new employee $2 billion to spend on whatever they want, and then Mark Zuckerberg complaining that HR hadn’t interviewed anybody else for the role.

Similarly at Aston Villa, who informally interviewed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Friday, Randy Lerner is seeking to cast the net wide to find not only the best candidate, but the man who will fit with the ethos and philosophy of the owner, staff and players. Solskjaer is not the only candidate, with Lerner undertaking a process, not simply appointing the latest hot thing.

Yet, there is still shock in the British media that FSG should want to break with football’s traditional method of appointing managers on a nod and a wink. Managers – ‘the most important employee at a football club’ – Rant was told, do not like to be interviewed because it undermines their current position. The heart bleeds that football clubs are, apparently, simply unable to recruit in the normal fashion, behind closed doors, and with a sensible level of due diligence.

Meanwhile, in the capital Roman Abramovich will likely continue the model that has served Chelsea poorly since Jose Mourinho’s departure. On each occasion Abramovich has anointed the new man seemingly on a whim – either through personal friendship, or in the case of the aforementioned Villas-Boas, because the Portuguese was the latest ‘hot thing’ on the market. The last mistake cost the Russian oligarch nearly £30 million, and his team a place in next year’s Champions League.

Which is all the more worrying when United comes round to replacing Ferguson. After all, while we know much about Mourinho, Solskjaer, and even David Moyes on a superficial basis, United’s senior executives will have little insight on a personal level. Not so much the blind leading the blind into a new era, as the partially sighted hoping that the light ahead is the end of the tunnel, and not a train wreck waiting to happen.

It’s precisely why FSG, despite the monumental mishandling of Liverpool’s transfer, communications and marketing strategy over the past 12 months, is now doing the right thing. Football industry be dammed, it’s better to get the right man, despite the negative headlines, than appoint another ill-fitting candidate on little-to-no information.

And while United fans may snigger at Swansea manager Rodgers turning down, on Friday, an interview with Liverpool, it may be best to remember that old Cooke refrain: change is gonna come. The question is, how will United manage its way through?

Suárez and police fail to ruin Evra’s day

Ed February 11, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 71 comments

The day began with the Greater Manchester Police confiscating copies of Red Issue outside Old Trafford, and ended with Sir Alex Ferguson finally coming out fighting on the issue of racism. In between Patrice Evra wildly celebrated a Manchester United victory in front of the Stretford End, while Luis Suárez and Kenny Dalglish brought further embarrassment to their club. Just your average United versus Liverpool clash, then.

Barely two weeks on from the disgraceful scenes at Anfield, where 40,000 Liverpudlians sought to set race relations back a generation by victimising Patrice Evra, United exacted a modicum of revenge in Manchester. United won comfortably enough, but there was far more to this occasion than the odd goal in three. Set in the context of Suárez culpability over racially abusing Evra last October, the clash sparked into life before a ball had even been kicked when the Uruguayan refused the United captain’s pre-match handshake. The striker’s snub ensured a testy encounter, with players on both sides confronting each other in the tunnel at half-time, and then again at the final whistle.

But tensions were raised long before the players entered the field, with the GMP confiscating copies of Red Issue, t-shirts mocking Suárez, and arresting supporters selling the fanzine pre-match. The crime? Including a satirical, albeit tasteless, picture of a Klu Klux Klan hood on the back cover, with the words “Suarez is innocent” emboldened in red. So much for freedom of speech, then.

GMP accused the long-running fanzine of ‘inciting racial hatred’ in what is surely a massive over-reaction against an image that sought to mock Liverpool’s lack of action over racism. Inside the stadium fans reported that both fanzines and t-shirts were confiscated by stewards, although when contacted by Rant, the club insisted that it had not asked the police to seize the fanzines.

“Officers are now seizing the fanzines and in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service we will take appropriate action against anyone either found selling this particular fanzine or provocatively displaying the image in public,” said Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts.

“I have taken this cause of action as both items are potentially offensive and we cannot be in a situation where hundreds or thousands of people were displaying offensive images at a football match. The consequences of taking no action could have resulted in public order incidents inside or outside the ground.”

Sadly police took no action against the deeply offensive image of Suárez lauding it inside Old Trafford, or for that matter, broadcast to millions via television.

Tensions were further increased before kick off when Liverpool’s star striker refused to shake Evra’s hand, resulting in an frustrated reaction from the Frenchman, and a counter snub from Rio Ferdinand. Suárez’ refusal came after Liverpool manager Dalglish had promised, on Thursday, that the matter was now behind his errant player and a handshake would take place.

Indeed, the Uruguayan’s deliberate provocation almost brought dividends for the visitors, with Evra flying into a tackle with the striker barely 30 seconds into the game. Referee Dowd was saved a difficult decision when the Frenchman flipped Ferdinand on his heading, missing Suárez in the process. Had the striker’s pre-match snub been as apparent to fans inside the stadium, as it was to those watching on TV, anger may well have spilled over from the pitch and into the stands.

To those watching the Uruguayan’s actions were little more than a premeditated act of insensitivity – another in a long line of indelibly offensive behaviour by the striker. It is also likely to backfire; an act so immature that even Dalglish’s one-eye defiance can hold no water. One wonders what Liverpool owner John Henry, still silent after all these months, must be thinking over in Boston.

“I could not believe it, I just could not believe it,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“We had a chat this morning and Patrice said: ‘I’m going to shake his hand, I have nothing to be ashamed of, I’m going to keep my dignity.’ And he [Suárez] refuses. He’s a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club, that certain player should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again.

“The history that club’s got and he does that and in a situation like today could have caused a riot. I was really disappointed in that guy, it was terrible what he did. It created a tension, you’ve seen the referee didn’t know what to do about it. It was a terrible start to the game, a terrible atmosphere it created.

“We’ve got to get our house in order in terms of fighting racism. It’s an important issue in this country. Football’s come a long way from the days of John Barnes when they were throwing bananas at him to where we are today. We can’t go back. We have to go forward in a positive way and ban it altogether.”

By half-time opposing players were at each others’ throats as Evra sought to confront Suárez, and those on both sides engaged in what Sky Sports euphemistically called “shenanigans” – it could have been a lot more serious than a few minutes of pushing in the Old Trafford tunnel.

Meanwhile, in the studio Gary Neville and Darren Fletcher clashed with Jamie Redknapp. The former Liverpool player placed blame for the incident on the Football Association’s insistence that the normal pre-match routine take place, while Neville called the striker’s snub “embarrassing”.

Then came the moment United fans hoped for as Wayne Rooney scored twice within five minutes of the re-start to put the Reds in control and top of the Premier League table. With no little drama Suárez bundled in a goal for the visitors, but anything less than victory would have been an injustice for the hosts in a match that United thoroughly dominated.

Once again football seemed the back-drop to a bigger story though. Evra’s joyous victory celebration in front of the Stretford End was just yards from Suárez as the Uruguayan trudged off the pitch, head hung low. Pepe Reina and Martin Skrtel were only prevented from confronting the United captain by the rapid intervention of referee Dowd.

Over to Kenny for an apology? Not likely, as Dalglish once again failed to confront the issue of racism, instead blaming the media for increasing the tension surrounding the match. Laughably, the Liverpool manager also pretended that he was unaware of Suárez’ non-handshake. It is, seemingly, never Liverpool’s fault.

“I never knew he never shook his hand,” claimed the increasingly befuddled Dalglish.

“I’ll take your word for it. But I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I never saw it. That is contrary to what I was told. I think you are very severe and are bang out of order to blame Luis Suárez for anything that happened here today. You know something else, when we had the FA Cup tie, because there wasn’t a 24-hour news channel in the build-up to the game, nothing like this happened.”

The striker continued in a similar vein, taking to Twitter to claim that “everything is not as it seems.” Noises coming from the Liverpool dressing room, leaked via the media, suggested that Suárez had not rejected Evra’s hand, but that the Frenchman had withdrawn the offer. There has been a long-line of ludicrous statements emanating from Anfield since October, but this one surely tops them all. It is not, seemingly, ever Liverpool’s fault.

Meanwhile, at GMP headquarters the police continue to hold more than 1,600 copies of Red Issue as “evidence” of a potential offence under the Race Act. It was a day in which football leapt from myopic denial, to the police state, all in one short afternoon.

Red Issue back page

Red Issue back page, via @andersred

Cleverley returns for Liverpool tie

Ed February 10, 2012 Tags: , Matches 105 comments

Tom Cleverley returns to the Manchester United squad as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side takes on Liverpool for the third time this season. United face the Merseysiders just a fortnight after losing in an FA Cup fourth round tie at Anfield, but midfielder Cleverley’s return provides a timely boost in United’s pursuit of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table. Cleverley has not featured since October, and not completed a match since the Reds beat Arsenal 8-2 in August, but is likely to make the bench for the Saturday lunchtime tie at Old Trafford.

England international Cleverley adds additional midfield creativity to a United side that came back from three goals down at Stamford Bridge last weekend, but slipped two points behind City in the title race. Ferguson will also be able to call upon defender Chris Smalling, but Phil Jones is unlikely to feature until next week’s Europa League fixture against Ajax.

But United appears to have come through one of the worst injury crisis during Ferguson’s 25 year tenure at Old Trafford, with up to 11 players missing at any one time through the autumn and winter. Indeed, winger Nani remains on the sidelines, while the long-term injured, including Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidić will not feature.

“Tom’s training well. We were disappointed the Chelsea Reserves game was called off on Monday,” said Ferguson on Friday.

“The plan was for him to stay over with us [after last Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge] and play in the game on the Monday. That was called off. But he’s trained very well and he’ll be involved tomorrow.

“There’s not much change on the injury front for us. I think Smalling could be available, but all the rest is as it was last Sunday. Phil Jones got a knock against Manchester City, which he never quite recovered from. He’ll be fit for next week. He’ll be fit for the Ajax game.”

Manchester United versus Liverpool, Premier League, Old Trafford, 11 February 2012, 12.45pm. If Cleverley’s return does not add enough spice to the fixture, then Luis Suárez’ first appearance at Old Trafford since completing an eight match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra certainly does. With the United captain suffering consistent abuse at Anfield a fortnight ago, the Uruguayan striker is likely to receive a typically warm Manchester welcome.

However, Sir Alex believes that the debate about the potential handshake between Evra and Suárez is irrelevant, although the media is likely to focus on the moment during the pre-match rituals. Instead, Ferguson chose to concentrate on the lax defending that cost his side three goals at Stamford Bridge and defeat against Liverpool in the cup.

“I think our performance levels in the last few weeks have been good, but we’re losing goals in important games and that’s a bit of a concern,” the 70-year-old manager added.

“Last week, Juan Mata’s goal was a fantastic strike – we couldn’t do a thing about that – but an own goal and a deflected goal… we should do better. We lost two soft goals against Liverpool in the FA Cup and that shouldn’t be happening at our club. We expect a hard game tomorrow but I’m just looking for the sort of performance we’ve been showing recently. That should help us.”

Injuries to each of Ferguson’s back four, save for Evra, has certainly not helped. Indeed, the French defender’s poor form in recent matches can, in part, be attributed to potential burn-out – Evra has featured in more games than any other United player this season. Evra’s ongoing form has United fans debating the Frenchman’s future despite the manager’s persistent faith.

One man for whom there is little debate is Ryan Giggs, with the 38-year-old midfielder signing a one year contract extension on Friday. The Welshman will be just months short of his 40th birthday by the time the new deal expires in summer 2013. And Giggs will compete with another veteran, Paul Scholes, for a place in United’s starting 11 along with Michael Carrick.

Elsewhere, Ferguson will pick between Smalling and in-form Rafael da Silva at right-back, while Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck are competing for a place in attack. Ashley Young could retain his place despite the below par performance at Stamford Bridge last weekend.

“It is brilliant for him, the club and the fans that somebody of his calibre is going to continue at his age,” said Young of Giggs’ new deal.

“He has been brilliant throughout the years that he has played and is somebody that I admire and look up to. Obviously players like Giggs and Scholes have experience from their many years at the club and when they talk, you listen because they have been there and done it. They have won so many titles and medals and have achieved so much in their careers. If I can achieve part of that I’ll be thrilled. I’d say I’m an experienced player at 26 but I still listen to the seniors and want to improve.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish must decide whether to include Suárez in his starting side. The striker came off the bench during Liverpool’s draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Monday. However, Andy Carroll caused goalkeeper David de Gea significant problems at Anfield, with the young Spaniard struggling to cope with Liverpool’s direct, physical, approach. Jose Enrique could play missing the scoreless draw with Spurs though injury.

United has won six of the last seven league meetings between the sides at Old Trafford – the exception was Liverpool’s 4-1 win in March 2009. And the Reds home form is nothing like last season’s, with Ferguson’s side dropping eight points at Old Trafford already. By the same stage last year, United had dropped just two points.

Ferguson knows that there is little room for manoeuver, especially with City facing a comfortable looking run of fixtures before ‘squeaky bum time’ kicks in during the spring!

Match details
Manchester United versus Liverpool, Premier League, Old Trafford, 11 February 2012, 12.45pm.

Potential Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Amos, Kuszazck, Smalling, Fryers, Cleverley, Cole, Giggs, Park, Pogba, Welbeck, Berbatov.

Liverpool (4-5-1): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Kuyt, Gerrard, Spearing, Adam, Downing; Suárez. Subs from: Doni, Aurelio, Coates, Carragher, Henderson, Carroll, Bellamy.

Stats

  • United provided one of the games of the season against Chelsea on Sunday, coming back from 3-0 down to secure a 3-3 draw and stay in the title race;
  • Michael Carrick covered the most ground in that game for the third Premier League game in a row, with 6.68 miles;
  • Patrice Evra has covered the most ground in total this season with 131.2 miles;
  • Two penalties from Wayne Rooney and a header from Javier Hernández brought United back into the game. Rooney’s goals were his 14th and 15th of the season, and have come from 87 shots at goal with 64 per cent on target;
  • David De Gea has been heavily criticised this season, but the young goalkeeper pulled off two sensational saves to keep United in the game against Chelsea. The Spaniard has made 97 saves this season, averaging 6.5 per game. That’s the fourth highest average in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Meanwhile, Liverpool welcomed back Luis Suárez against Spurs on Monday, but the Uruguay striker could not break the deadlock as Liverpool were held to a scoreless draw;
  • Charlie Adam covered the most ground for Liverpool against Spurs with 6.83 miles, and has covered 141.3 miles in total this season for Liverpool (the most of any Liverpool player);
  • Andy Carroll has been credited with improved form in Suárez’s absence. The former Newcastle United striker has averaged 4.8 miles in each of his Premier League games without the Uruguayan – his average across the season is just 3.8 miles per game;
  • Suárez has made 76 efforts at goal this season with 53 per cent on target, while Carroll has had 50 with exactly half on target;
  • Suárez has averaged a shot at goal every 22 minutes, while Carroll has had an effort every 28 minutes this season.

Form
United: WWWLWD
Liverpool: DLDWWD

Officials
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
Assistants: S Bennett, A Garratt
Fourth Official: A Taylor

Evra stands tall in the cauldron of Liverpool’s hate

Ed January 29, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 104 comments

The match did not conclude well for Patrice Evra, with the Manchester United captain allowing Dirk Kuyt to run inside and score Liverpool’s winning goal at the Kop End on Saturday. Indeed, by the end of a tortuous 90 minutes Evra looked mentally and physically shattered; beaten both by his opponents and fatigue. Yet, at no moment was the French defender defeated by the melting pot of vile – at times overtly racist – hatred directed by Liverpool’s supporters. Standing proud to the end, Evra’s side may have lost an FA Cup fourth round encounter, but the defender completed the game riding the highest of horses.

Catalysed by Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool’s hierarchy, Anfield’s regulars jeered the United number three’s every touch. This much was expect given the extent to which Liverpool has sought to, and largely succeeded in, regressing race relations at the club over the past three months. Few stood back from the organised cacophony; hate was not only directed at Evra, but deemed universally acceptable.

“There’s only one lying b*stard,” sang the Kop, echoing Liverpool’s ongoing defence of Luis Suárez – that Evra simply fabricated an allegation of racial abuse in October. This was a song delivered without irony, given that Dalglish, Suárez, Kuyt, and director of football Damien Commoli were each caught changing their stories to the independent Regulatory Commission that sat in judgement of the Liverpool striker.

Yet, it was no surprise that Liverpool manager Dalglish chose to categorise 90 minutes of abuse as nothing more than “friendly banter.” After all, the 60-year-old Scot has proven to be as unreconstructed as they come, having chosen to smear Evra, as Dalglish’s own evidence to the Commission demonstrated, right from the very start of the affair back in October.

While the atmosphere was deeply unpleasant, far worse was to come from Liverpool’s once proud supporters than mere noise. Shortly before half-time one supporter was caught on camera aiming a ‘monkey gesture‘ towards Evra. It was an image posted on this site, and to Twitter. Within minutes the picture had spread throughout the football community.

Merseyside Police confirmed on Saturday evening that a 59-year-old man from North Wales was arrested following an ‘alleged’ incident at the match. The supporter was taken to a local station for questioning.

Yet, there has been not a word from Liverpool about the incident. So quick to launch a smear campaign against Evra, the Football Association or any other party deemed to have wronged the club; so reticent to decry racism in genuine terms.

One wonders whether the club will ever come to understand the very real damaged caused by its reaction to Suárez’ sanction. Liverpool, and Dalglish in particular, not only failed to apologise for the striker’s racist abuse, but the club has now sponsored a new wave of race hate among its fan-base. The latest incident is the third this season, beginning with Suárez, and including the disgraceful abuse of Oldham Athletic defender Tom Adeyemi earlier this month.

In keeping with the pattern, Dalglish praised Liverpool’s supporters on Saturday.

“The fans are entitled to support their team, absolutely no problem,” claimed Dalglish on Saturday.

“I don’t think there was anything there that was untoward. I think both sets of fans were a magnificent advert for their clubs. Both clubs can be very proud of the fans they have here. There was a good bit of banter between both fans, which is brilliant because you don’t want to take that away.”

But the genuine concern is that Evra’s contemporaries will now be less inclined to report incidents of racial abuse given the furious reaction extracted from Liverpool supporters by their club. It is a concern touched on by a media community now growing restless at Liverpool’s approach to race relations.

“I found it horrible, I found it a very difficult day to report on,” Sunday Times journalist Jonathan Northcroft told Sunday Supplement.

“I live in Liverpool and my partner is black and she’s found this very uncomfortable. We know black friends who are Liverpool fans and they’ve also found it very uncomfortable. What we had yesterday was a black player being booed and barracked and targeted by the Liverpool fans and called a liar. And for what? His crime was to have complained about racial abuse the last time he was at the stadium. That particular case was upheld by an FA commission, but he’s being targeted and treated as a villain.”

Meanwhile, Evra, although clearly drained by the fixture’s intensity, reacted not once to the bile from the stands. Indeed, the 30-year-old has behaved with a quiet dignity throughout, keeping largely silent in the face of supporter-driven hatred, and media scrutiny.

But Evra’s silence has only been in the public sphere, behind the scenes the Frenchman proved not only to be a forthright and credible witness, but a genuine leader. Yet, with the defender so heavily abused just a day after QPR player Anton Ferdinand was sent a bullet in the post – presumably by a disgruntled Chelsea supporter – questions will be asked about football’s ability to deal with racism in the future.

“Are we saying if you make a complaint about racial abuse you’re going to get a bullet sent through the post to you or you’re going to get called a liar by 40,000 fans?” added the Mirror’s Oliver Holt.

“We’re trying to empower black players not to put up with this any more, and yet we are in danger – because of the reaction that has happened and the vilification of players who have done nothing except complain about being racially abused – of pushing things back to a conspiracy of silence.”

In this Liverpool is highly culpable, as is the FA for allowing one of the country’s most venerated club’s to become a force not for unity, but division.

“Football at times can be like pantomime, you can boo the referee if you feel he makes a bad decision and you boo a player if you feel he has feigned an injury or made a bad tackle and you can live with that,” PFA chairman Gordon Taylor told talkSPORT.

“But when you are booing a player because he has made a complaint that was upheld by an independent panel, you worry that it is going to put off anybody complaining again because of the backlash and furore we have seen.

“That’s just what we don’t want because there is no point in having a campaign to eliminate such a highly sensitive issue as racism if it is going to get drowned out by the backlash.”

In that there is a lesson. Suárez’ punishment may have sent the proverbial message that racist abuse on the pitch is not acceptable. Perhaps it is now time for the Uruguayan’s club to face a similar judgement.

Fergie urges calm for Liverpool cup clash

Ed January 28, 2012 Tags: , Matches 5 comments

Amid the tension and media interest generated by Luis Suárez’ racial abuse of Patrice Evra in October fans could be forgiven for losing sight of the sideshow this weekend: the fight for a place in the last 16 of the world’s oldest cup competition. Yet, the simmering hatred ingrained into Manchester United’s rivalry with Liverpool has an added dimension this weekend, with the visitors’ first outing at Anfield since the Uruguayan’s transgression in October. It makes for a fascinating FA Cup fourth round tie; one in which the subplot still threatens to grab all the headlines.

Sir Alex Ferguson may be unwilling to talk about Evra – in public at least – but there is little doubt that Liverpool’s actions in both vociferously defending Suárez, and fingering Evra for the Football Association’s eight match ban of the striker, has irked the Scot. Ferguson’s aggressive dismissal of media questioning on Friday is all the tell any supporters need.

It is not as though one has to look far beneath the surface to uncover the deep emotions that this tie has always uncovered. Mutual resentment did not require Suárez’ actions to bubble up from beneath the surface, and spill over the edge from rivalry to hate. Yet, October has certainly catalyzed the process; acting as a reference point for one of football’s most divisive encounters.

Will hate spill over into something more on Saturday? Certainly with tensions running so high both Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish were circumspect in their comments on Friday. Despite this the damage has surely already been done by the Anfield club: Evra, United’s captain, can expect to ride the gauntlet of abuse on Saturday. None of it is likely to phase Senegalese-born Evra.

Meanwhile, United supporters, just over 5,000 of them, were urged to be “loud and witty” but no more by Ferguson. Travelling fans will need every ounce of restraint in an encounter that needs no kindling.

Supporters need only recall the last occasion United last visited Anfield in the FA Cup when Alan Smith snapped is right leg in two places, and home fans saw fit to charge the striker’s ambulance. It was no isolated incident in a long history of dark moments between these two clubs.

Liverpool versus Manchester United, FA Cup fourth round, Anfield, Saturday 28 January 2012, 12.45pm.There is a football match, of course, and if Ferguson’s men are to secure the FA Cup for the first time since 2004 they will have to both overcome the odds and history. Indeed, with up to 11 players injured, Ferguson’s men must win the hard way if United is to beat Liverpool at Anfield for the first time in almost five years.

“It’s a massive game for both clubs. There’s a tremendous profile around it,” admitted Ferguson on Friday.

“As Steven Gerrard said yesterday, there is a responsibility on the players to behave properly and also both sets of fans. We want to make sure we are talking about the game, nothing else. It is something you want to look forward to. That is what I intend to do.

“I always think home draws make you favourite. In my time there haven’t been many cup ties between the clubs. It’s one to look forward to and I think the players will follow that.”

Ferguson would not be drawn on Evra’s role, although there was never any question of the French defender being left out of United’s side on Saturday. Indeed, Ferguson has steadfastly refused to discuss the affair, even in the wake of the FA Regulatory Commission’s damning indictment of Suárez.

Instead, Ferguson was keen to talk up supporters’ responsibility on Saturday, both for maintaining order in a testing atmosphere and for driving United towards victory.

“Our fans were terrific there this season. The issue of clubs reducing the number of tickets for our supporters has been going on for quite a while now. It has become a convenient way of selling their hospitality. But the stewards have a difficult enough job as it is. We should be helping.”

Whatever the distractions United must win a tie without a team of absentees. Long-term injury victims Tom Cleverley, Nemanja Vidić, Darren Fletcher and Michael Owen are joined on the sidelines by a plethora of senior pros. Ashley Young, although back in training, is not ready to take part, while Phil Jones and Rio Ferdinand will not be risked.

Meanwhile, United waits on news of winger Nani’s injury, with the club fearing a broken metatarsal bone. Wayne Rooney, who hobbled away from United’s victory at Arsenal last week, may not be risked, and Michael Carrick faces a late test.

Despite the absentees Ferguson’s men head into the tie with one of England’s most in-form forwards in Danny Welbeck. The once gangly kid has grown into a Premier League striker of the highest class over the past 18 months. United will surely need the Longsight-born forward to be at his dynamic best on Saturday.

No wonder Ferguson singled out the 21-year-old England international for praise.

“We were always aware of Danny Welbeck’s ability as a kid,” added Sir Alex on Friday.

“It was just a matter of waiting for Danny to develop into a man and we’re seeing the signs now. He has a great physique but I think there’s still more to come. I don’t think he’s finished growing yet. Our stats show there’s still a bit to do before he becomes a complete adult in a physical sense. He has a good attitude but then he should – he’s a young player with an opportunity at Manchester United.”

Should Rooney not make the tie as seems increasingly likely – the Scouser has not trained all week – Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernández will compete for a place along side the United youngster. With so many injuries Ferguson’s back-four picks itself, although the Scot must choose between Ryan Giggs, Anderson and Paul Scholes in central midfield.

Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Dalglish will be without Suárez, with the Uruguayan serving the sixth of an eight match ban. Jay Spearing may return to the squad, although Dalglish is unlikely to make many changes from the 11 that knocked Manchester City out of the Carling Cup on Wednesday.

Yet, despite Liverpool’s mixed recent form the Anfield side has not yet lost at home this season. Dalglish’s side has recorded five wins and eight draws at Anfield, although the side is struggling to keep in touch with the top four. Yet, there can be no room for any doubt that Liverpool’s players will up the mediocre level of commitment displayed, for example, in the recent defeat to Bolton Wanderers. Hostility from the stands will surely be met by passion on the pitch.

It is incumbent on Ferguson’s men to quieten both.

Match Facts
Liverpool versus Manchester United, FA Cup fourth round, Anfield, Saturday 28 January 2012, 12.45pm.

Potential Line-ups
Liverpool (4-5-1): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Henderson, Spearing, Adam, Gerrard, Downing; Carroll. Subs from: Doni, Bellamy, Kuyt, Kelly, Coates, Rodríguez, Carragher, Aurélio, Shelvey, Flanagan.

United (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Giggs, Carrick, Park; Hernandez, Welbeck. Subs from: De Gea, Fryers, Cole, Fabio, Lingard, Keane, Scholes, Berbatov.

Form
Liverpool: LWWDLD
United: WLLWWW

Officials
Referee: Mark Halsey (Welwyn Garden City)
Assistant Referees: Michael Mullarkey & Stuart Burt
Fourth Official: Howard Webb

United Rant Live: Liverpool v United

Ed January 27, 2012 Tags: , , Matches 259 comments

Liverpool versus Manchester United is the biggest game of the season at any time, but an FA Cup game at Anfield, with 5,000 travelling Old Trafford regulars, and all the drama surrounding Patrice Evra, means this fixture has an extra dimension.

For the second time on United Rant, the podcast regulars will be live blogging a game this season. Join in on the comments below or Tweet us. Paul – @UtdRantCast and Ed – @unitedrant.

The game kicks off at Anfield on Saturday, 28 January 2012, 12.45pm GMT. We’ll be with you around 45 minutes before the whistle!

Page will automatically refresh every 20 seconds or hit F5.

 

[liveblog]

Be witty, be loud – just don’t mention Suárez

Ed January 24, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 11 comments

It recalls that classic Fawlty Towers episode. You know the one, where Basil does everything he can to ‘not mention the war’ as a group of German tourists visit his ramshackle hotel. Except, of course, the bit about not mentioning the war. Sir Alex Ferguson appears to have heeded that particular, if farcical, lesson this week, writing to fans attending the FA Cup fourth round tie with Liverpool at the weekend to appeal for good behaviour.

Fair enough one might think, with the tie likely to be even more tense than usual, and supporters’ groups keen for a full ticket allocation to be restored at Anfield. Curious though that Ferguson chose to complete the letter, sent to just over 5,000 fans, without a single mention of the Luis Suárez affair. After all, the fallout from Suárez’ racial abuse of Patrice Evra, and subsequent eight match ban, will still be felt at Anfield on Saturday even if the Uruguayan is absent.

Indeed, Suárez is one of the key reasons the tie has been shifted to an early kick-off, with the Football Association calling on the clubs to maintain order.

“FA Cup ties are tense affairs at the best of times,” Ferguson wrote in the letter to travelling United supporters.

“Add in the fact that Manchester United against Liverpool is the biggest game around and it becomes even more so. Your support is vital to the team and down the years that has been especially true at Anfield. But please put the emphasis on getting us into the next round and giving the sort of support you are famous for – positive, witty and loud.

“I wrote to fans attending the away match in October urging them to co-operate with stewards and officials at Liverpool so we can make a strong case for restoring our allocation for future United games at Anfield. The fans did almost everything asked of them that day and as a result, we have a much improved allocation for this important FA Cup tie. Please do everything you can to continue that good work and protect next season’s allocation.”

Ferguson continues, much as he did in October, to demand that United supporters respect local stewards and Anfield’s ground regulations. It’s a short-hand admonishment for those United supporters that neither sit nor keep the gangways clear at away fixtures.

In that narrow sense Ferguson’s appeal is perfectly sensible. Diligent work by supporters’ groups such as IMUSA and MUST, keen to stem a rising tide of reduced ticket allocations at away matches, will only pay dividends when United’s opponents run out of ammunition. Yet, Ferguson’s letter does not quite hit the mark either; not in the current climate, not with the stench of Suárez’ actions still hanging over the tie.

Indeed, the Suárez affair continues to place a strain on relations between Liverpool and United. The Anfield club released a series of inflammatory statements after the lengthy sanction to the Uruguayan was handed down by an FA Regulatory Commission. Liverpool’s repeated briefing of media outlets during the two month wait for a verdict is known to have irked Ferguson. Liverpool went on to slander Evra, accuse the FA of institutional conspiracy, and fail to even partially understand the nation’s mood. It is an episode that has brought shame on a once proud club; one of England’s oldest and most successful teams.

Meanwhile, Evra, United’s captain for the season, is bound to receive the ugliest of receptions at Anfield, all in the name of ‘supporting’ the Frenchman’s abuser. Few on Merseyside, it seems, will understand the irony when the all-too-inevitable barrage of abuse heads the defender’s way.

This is, of course, where Ferguson’s communication with supporters this week falls short. The legendary manager is also likely to dodge questions on the subject during his Friday press conference. Unlike hotel owner Basil Fawlty, Ferguson is simply not going to mention the war.

In reality the match will be dominated by talk of Suárez’ actions and eventual ban. The atmosphere, fuelled by Liverpool’s bloody-minded defence of the striker, is bound to increase tension between supporters. One can only hope that hostility does not extend beyond the verbal, to something far more sinister – much as it did the last time United visited Anfield for a cup tie in 2006.

Meanwhile, Evra will mercifully not face the burden of shaking Suárez’ hand on Saturday lunchtime, with the Uruguayan facing the sixth of an eight game ban. That pleasure will come when the sides meet in the Premier League next month. Liverpool’s players, meanwhile, will likely perform their usual trick of significantly increasing the intensity of performance against United. Few Anfield supporters will recognise the side that lost so tamely at Bolton Wanderers recently.

Which brings us back to Ferguson’s letter. Well meaning no doubt, but ultimately lacking the bite that it might have given the circumstances.

Ferguson’s Letter

Sir Alex Ferguson letter

via @TuftyMUFC