Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, said yesterday that his players should rise above the temptation to refuse pre-match handshakes and suggested that Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra should both put race issues in the past when they encounter Chelsea's John Terry and Liverpool's Luis Suarez on the field of play.
Terry's likely absence from United's encounter with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tomorrow removes a potential flashpoint after Terry was stripped of the England captaincy pending the conclusion of criminal proceedings over his alleged racial abuse of Ferdinand's brother, Anton. But next Saturday's Old Trafford game with Liverpool could be even more incendiary, and Ferguson said the handshake – which Queen's Park Rangers manager Mark Hughes has said should be dispensed with – ought to be observed.
"Next week we have Patrice Evra with Liverpool," Ferguson said. "Patrice has already shown the courage to fight it by complaining about it and so therefore he has nothing to be ashamed of. I don't think it's a problem shaking hands. I think I would have a word with Rio to see what his stance is because Rio in many ways has been fighting the racism issue for years; I've seen that in all the times I've known the lad. But there is a moment when he maybe has to rise above that. The real guilt doesn't lie with Rio at all. So he maybe should just rise above it all."
Ferguson confirmed that Wayne Rooney, Luis Nani and Ashley Young will all be back in contention as United seek their first Premier League win in west London since April 2002.
The Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancini, bristled yesterday when it was suggested that United, who have had 10 players out, can only get better, with Tom Cleverley also travelling to London and set to face Chelsea reserves on Monday. "Which players do they have out?" Mancini said. "They have [Nemanja] Vidic out for the season and maybe Young for the last couple of months but after that they have only had players out for the one or two games, like us."
But the United manager, who will restore David de Gea in goal tomorrow, with Anders Lindegaard possibly out for six weeks with an ankle injury, confidently brushed off his critics, observing the BBC's Alan Hansen had "dug himself into a grave" by saying United had not played well in 18 months.
"He tried to change it by saying it was our away form but I've read his transcript and he said we were woeful for the last year and a half," Ferguson said. "He's in a responsible position in the role he's got and it's obvious to me he has said it the week before we played Liverpool. I can understand, he's a former Liverpool player, that's no problem for me, and Kenny [Dalglish] is his pal, he's maybe tried to jack it up a little bit but he should be more responsible. When you think about [what we achieved last season] we couldn't have been that woeful."