Alex Ferguson calls for calm ahead of Anfield meeting

 

Sir Alex Ferguson has appealed for both fans and players to ensure tomorrow's FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Manchester United is memorable only for the quality of football.

The Anfield showdown will be the first time the two sides have met since October, when Patrice Evra made his racism allegations against Luis Suarez.

Although Liverpool's immediate reactions in the wake of the guilty verdict that led to Suarez being banned for eight matches left United distinctly unimpressed, the Merseyside giants have now switched their stance completely and warned supporters any racist abuse will not be tolerated.

However, whether that, and a massive security presence, are enough to take the edge off tensions between the rival sets of fans is open to debate.

The long history of animosity between the supporters even extended to an FA Youth Cup tie at Anfield last season and with over 5,000 fans in attendance, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that a section of United's travelling contingent will look to inflame the situation.

Ferguson has stayed clear of the entire row since his initial confirmation that United would back Evra in whatever action he chose to take.

However, the Scot feels now is the time to try and ensure all the talk is about the game, rather than the obvious issues surrounding it.

"It is a massive game for both clubs," he said.

"There is a tremendous profile on it and will be interest throughout the country.

"As Steven Gerrard said yesterday, there is a responsibility on the players to behave properly. That is what I expect my players to do.

"Both sets of fans have got to make sure we are talking about the game and nothing else."

Earlier this week, Merseyside Police issued their own guidance, insisting they would be: "Firm, fair and friendly, but we will take action where necessary against those individuals who may seek to cause problems or misbehave."

That followed on from a letter Ferguson sent to United ticket holders, appealing for them to work with the stewards in the stadium to ensure future allocations remain high.

"We have been there this season and our fans were terrific," he said.

"The issue of clubs reducing our travelling support has been going on for quite a while now. It has become a convenient way of selling the hospitality when Manchester United come to town.

"Stewards have a difficult enough job as it is, trying to get supporters to sit down. It never happens.

"You look at every away support in the country, they all stand. The difference, as I have said to our supporters, is make sure you don't stand in the aisles.

"We should be helping. If they do that, the stewards can get on with their job."

Ferguson flatly refused to speak directly about Evra, or whether he would play.

However, assistant Mike Phelan has already said the stand-in United skipper would be available for selection, which given Ferguson's massive injury list, is hardly a surprise.

The last time United went to Anfield in the FA Cup, they were beaten by a solitary Peter Crouch goal and Alan Smith ended up in hospital with an horrific leg injury.

Ferguson would prefer to remember Eric Cantona's winner in the 1996 final at Wembley and also the fourth round encounter at Old Trafford in 1999, when his side trailed for 86 minutes, only to eventually emerge victorious thanks to late goals from Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

It is because of the potential for producing such thrilling encounters, which makes Ferguson confident his hopes for a peaceful afternoon will be fulfilled.

"I am confident enough," he said.

"We want to be talking about a game of football.

"It is a big FA Cup tie. In my time there have not been many FA Cup ties between the clubs.

"It is something you want to look forward to. That is what I intend to do and the players should follow that."

If there was an attempt at mind games, it came through Ferguson's refusal to offer any injury updates, meaning Kenny Dalglish cannot know for certain whether Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand and Nani, whom it has been suggested could be out for a couple of months with the foot injury he picked up at Arsenal, will be involved or not.

Ferguson also declared that Liverpool's status as the home team makes them favourites.

However, United have beaten Manchester City and Arsenal in their last two away games, so have every reason for confidence themselves.

"We had quite a daunting programme, City, Arsenal, two games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham away, Stoke at home.

"But we're progressing through it and hopefully we get to the end of it and we've done well."

PA

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