Liverpool are considering seeking talks with Manchester United to reduce the prospect of Luis Suarez facing some of the worst abuse visited on an opposing player at Old Trafford when the two clubs meet in the Premier League on 16 February.
The Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, is understood to be determined that the controversy surrounding the United defender Patrice Evra's claims against Suarez will not prevent him from starting the Uruguayan in what will probably be his second game back after suspension. That raises the question of how the pre-match handshake between the two players will unfold, though the potential for abuse also causes Liverpool concern.
United were yet to hear from Liverpool on the subject yesterday and, though they will need to see what the club are proposing before assessing it, they are not dismissing the idea of working with them in some way. The first contact between the two may be frosty, given how much emphasis Dalglish has placed on the unreliability of Evra as a witness during Suarez's disciplinary case. Evra's name was notably absent when Suarez finally made a public apology for offence caused by his use of the word "negro" in the Anfield match of 15 October.
An intermediary may be required to help communication between the two clubs, and the Premier League is understood to be willing to act as one. It is possible that Greater Manchester Police may also encourage dialogue. In the past, the force has asked the staff and players of Manchester's two clubs to desist from comments and actions which might be deemed inflammatory in the build-up to derby games. The same may apply next month, when Dalglish will need to put behind him any lingering feelings about Suarez's eight-game ban.
United have done a lot of work in recent years to prevent the awful chants against the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, including a message from the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, in the match programme and the chief executive, David Gill, broaching the subject with a leading fans' forum. One small-scale measure United now take is to broadcast DVDs of their opponents in action through the away concourses before games to help to improve the atmosphere.
Dalglish also wants the FA to help shield Suarez from abuse, though Liverpool must make contact and work with the governing body if they want assistance. Spurs undertook concerted work with the FA to prevent homophobic and racist abuse at their game with Chelsea before Christmas. Liverpool certainly need to mend some fences with the FA if they are to get help from the organisation now.
More immediately, the club seek progress past Oldham Athletic in their FA Cup third-round tie tonight, a game which has significance for Jamie Carragher, who can anticipate his first start for Dalglish since the Carling Cup win at Chelsea on 11 November. In the intervening two months, Carragher has managed only seven minutes of action – and even that was in central midfield, as a replacement for Jonjo Shelvey at Aston Villa.
Carragher has lost his place on merit, with the combination of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel helping establish Dalglish's defence as one of the most effective in the Premier League. However, Skrtel was unconvincing in Tuesday's 3-0 Premier League defeat at Manchester City, conceding a late penalty and struggling with Sergio Aguero. At 33, Carragher is playing to reassert his position at the heart of Liverpool's defence
The arrival of Paul Dickov's League One side also offers Dalglish a chance to give Steven Gerrard a start.
Dalglish has lost only four of his previous 39 FA Cup ties as Liverpool manager, though his club have succumbed to lower-league opposition five times in the past 12 seasons – capitulating to Blackburn (2000), Crystal Palace (2003), Burnley (2005), Barnsley (2008) and Reading in 2010.