Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will ask striker Luis Suarez to shake hands with Manchester United fullback Patrice Evra before what is sure to be an emotionally-charged Premier League clash at Anfield on Sunday.
The fixture Gerrard has described as the biggest in world soccer is Liverpool’s first home game since this month’s independent Hillsborough report cleared their club’s fans of any wrongdoing in the 1989 FA Cup semi-final tragedy.
The crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium left 96 Liverpool supporters dead and the build-up to Sunday’s match with arch-rivals United has been dominated by calls for respect.
Even without the shadow of the new Hillsborough revelations hanging over the game, the fall-out from the Suarez-Evra racial abuse affair is still fresh in the memory.
Uruguayan Suarez, banned for eight matches last season for comments to Evra in a league match in October, refused to shake the Frenchman’s hand when the sides met again in February, prompting United manager Ferguson to label him a “disgrace”.
Gerrard, asked if he would speak to Suarez about the handshake, said: “Yes. My advice to him would be to shake hands [with Evra] and move on. Suarez will make his own decision, of course. But I’d like to think he would want to move on himself.
“Those two players could be the key. The handshakes are going to be at the beginning of the game and they’ve got a responsibility to start the day off on a good note,” he was quoted as saying in British newspapers on Sunday.
There is precious little harmony between either set of supporters and both managers have called for an end to the kind of offensive chanting that has so often marred the clash between England’s two most successful clubs.
A letter from coach Alex Ferguson will be handed to every United fan attending the match urging them not to let the rivalry turn into “personal hatred” after fears that some fans might hijack an emotive day for Liverpool.
An anti-Liverpool chant of ‘It’s never your fault, always the victims’ was heard from some quarters at Old Trafford last weekend in United’s 4-0 victory over Wigan Athletic.
Liverpool fans have also been known to mock the 1958 Munich air crash that killed eight United players.
Liverpool’s poor start to the season, which has seen them pick up just two points from four games under new manager Brendan Rodgers, has also added some spice to the fixture as they look to kick-start their campaign.
“First and foremost, it’s a great opportunity for us as a club to commemorate and to pay tribute to the families and the people involved with Hillsborough, and show and pay our respects to the families at the game,” Rodgers told Liverpool’s website (www.liverpoolfc.com).
The importance of a morale-boosting win is not lost on the Northern Irishman though.
“It’s important to play with your brain. There is going to be a lot of emotion around the game, which there normally is in relation to Liverpool against Manchester United.
“Hopefully we can then go on and get three points, which would set off what would hopefully be a great day for us.”
Victory for United would move them into second place, one point behind Chelsea, and while Ferguson has stressed the need for players and fans alike to behave with decorum, the Scot’s yearning for three points will be as strong as ever.
“We want to make sure we do our best and represent ourselves in the proper way,” Ferguson said. “That is the key for us on Sunday, just to enjoy it. Once the whistle goes, go and win the game. That should be our attitude.”
United have not won at Anfield since 2007.