Liverpool, Man United set for emotional EPL meeting
LONDON - The Associated Press
Suarez has stirred controversy after refusing to shake Manchester United defender Evra’s hand in their last meeting. AFP photo
Handshakes could overshadow football for the second straight Premier League weekend when Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra meet for the first time since an angry pre-match clash last season inflamed tensions between English giants Liverpool and Manchester United.
The match between the country’s two most successful clubs on Sept. 23 will already be an emotional occasion, given that it’s Liverpool’s first at Anfield since the release of the Hillsborough report last week that revealed new evidence about Britain’s worst sporting disaster.
A series of tributes are planned and with players under orders to respect the occasion, all eyes will be on whether Evra and Suarez shake hands in the traditional pre-match protocol following their racism feud that erupted last year.
The last time they came face to face - at Old Trafford in February - Suarez shunned the outstretched hand of Evra, the player he was found guilty of repeatedly racially abusing during a Premier League match four months earlier. United manager Alex Ferguson called Suarez “a disgrace” and said he shouldn’t play for Liverpool again, while then-Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish was criticized for failing to condemn his player for his actions.
More than the Suarez-Evra situation, which comes a week after Anton Ferdinand failed to shake hands with John Terry in a Queens Park Rangers-Chelsea game to continue another racism row, it’s the potential fans’ reaction to the Hillsborough tributes that has dominated the pre-match agenda this week.
“I am aware of the sensitivity of the day. Everybody is,” United captain Nemanja Vidic said. “All over the world they will be watching this game. It is probably the biggest derby and we have to show we are capable of keeping a good atmosphere and being a good example to the kids. We both have a history and we’re both respected. We have to keep it like that.”
Ferguson said United is “totally supportive” of Liverpool since the new findings about Hillsborough, which exonerated Liverpool fans from any blame for the death of 96 of the club’s supporters in the infamous stadium crush in 1989.
“It is going to be a very emotional day and we will support them in every way we can,” Ferguson said. “We understand what those families must have felt when they got that report.”
On the eve of United’s 4-0 win over Wigan last week, Ferguson called for an end to the tasteless chanting about Hillsborough and the 1958 Munich air crash - in which seven United players were killed - that has marred recent matches between Liverpool and United.
Yet, a section of United fans sang a chant including the lines “always the victims” and “it’s never your fault” early in the match.
“I was disappointed to hear it - it is a minority,” Ferguson said.
Steven Gerrard and Vidic will release 96 balloons before kick-off in memory of those who died at Hillsborough, while there will be a banner with the words “The Truth” will be displayed at the famous Kop end.
“The clubs have been working very hard to commemorate the work which has gone on with all the families,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said.
The match is important in football terms, too.
After its worst start to a season in 50 years, Liverpool is languishing just above the bottom three with just two points from four games.
United has won its last three matches to lie a point behind Chelsea and a point ahead of Arsenal and holder Manchester City.
City and Arsenal face each other also at Etihad Stadium on Sept. 23.