Morientes stokes flames of bitter rivalry

  • Other Sport
  • Sunday, 22 Jan 2006

LONDON: A fixture that is laced with more poison than any other on the English football calendar scarcely needed the additional spicing provided by Liverpool's Spanish striker Fernando Morientes. 

The former Real Madrid and Monaco forward claims the robust nature of meetings between his new club and Manchester United – who face each other at Old Trafford on today – would not be tolerated by referees on the other side of the English channel. 

“Playing United gave me early warning – fair play is a myth,” was how Morientes chose to reflect on his initial experiences of encounters between two clubs who have spent the last few decades assiduously cultivating a hate-hate relationship. 

“Players get away with the kind of hard tackles you don't see coming,” Morientes added. “Perhaps they will go into the challenge with boots raised and studs up. 

“The referees let players get away with the kind of tackling which would would get you sent off in Spain.” 

The intensity of the rivalry between two clubs that have enjoyed longer periods at the top of the English game than any of their rivals can hardly be disputed. 

United striker Wayne Rooney admitted feeling “sick for a week” when Liverpool triumphed in last season's Champions League – a success that prompted his team-mate Ryan Giggs to steer clear of television screens for a similar length of time. 

But United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, justifiably, pointed out that the verbal jousting in the stands rarely spilled over on to the pitch. 

“I have to think what Morientes has said has lost something in its interpretation,” Ferguson argued. “We had some meaty games involving people like Norman Whiteside and Steve McMahon when I first arrived. 

“But for as long as I can remember, both sets of players have respected the importance of the game and played it in the right spirit. 

“There has never been any lack of controversy and incident and there have been a few players sent off but there has never been anything which left me to say it had been a really physical match.” 

Ferguson is hoping to have the combative Alan Smith back in his side's midfield for a match that could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the two clubs' battle to secure second place in the Premiership, behind Chelsea. 

Smith will be in the side if he passes a late fitness test and could be crucial to United's attempts to keep tabs on Liverpool's talented midfield axis of Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard. 

United will be without Paul Scholes, still struggling with his vision after a head blow last month, and Korean star Park Ji-sung (knee). Liverpool's major absentee will be Spanish midfielder Luis Garcia. 

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