Liverpool and United focus on game not handshake
MANCHESTER, Feb 11 — Manchester United and Liverpool played down the racism subplot to their Premier League meeting this weekend by saying yesterday they were thinking only about the football.
Matches between England's two most successful teams are always highly charged and Saturday's game has the added bite of a possible first meeting between Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez since the latter's ban for racially abusing the United defender.
The clubs faced each other two weeks ago when Suarez was still serving an eight-match suspension but both players are now available for the Old Trafford encounter and the television cameras will be focused on the traditional pre-match handshake.
"We've just got on with our job, we've kept our dignity throughout, we're just concentrating on the game," United manager Alex Ferguson told a news conference.
"I've not even thought about it to be honest with you. I'm not bothered with it."
Liverpool counterpart Kenny Dalglish said earlier this week he was sure Uruguay striker Suarez would shake France defender Evra's hand but on Friday refused to discuss the matter.
"We will comment on football," he told reporters.
"We enjoy going there to play football and that is all we are going to concentrate on, we've covered every other aspect of what has to be covered."
With United having broken Liverpool's record by winning a 19th league title last season and the Anfield club holding a 5-3 advantage in terms of European Cups won, the atmosphere at these northwest derbies is always feisty.
Liverpool were 2-1 winners a fortnight ago when they met in the FA Cup fourth round and are unbeaten in their last three meetings with their bitter rivals.
United have a big incentive to break that run as victory would take them top of the Premier League, for at least 24 hours as leaders Manchester City do not visit Aston Villa until tomorrow.
"It's always going to be a big game," Ferguson said.
"We're chasing the league and they're chasing a Champions League place. It's important for both clubs."
United are second with 55 points from 24 games, with City two points ahead. Third-placed Tottenham Hotspur have 50 points while Liverpool are seventh on 39 -- four points away from a Champions League berth.
Ferguson said he was determined to stop his team's recent habit of giving away soft goals but was hoping his players would show the same determination they displayed to fight back from three goals down to draw 3-3 at Chelsea last weekend.
"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," he added.
"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."
Ferguson said fit-again midfielder Tom Cleverley would return for the first time since October, a welcome boost after the 22-year-old made an explosive start to the season with his energy and ball distribution.
"He's trained very well and he'll be involved tomorrow," said the United manager. — Reuters