Sir Alex Ferguson has sprung to the defence of Wayne Rooney in the row over the Manchester United striker's admission that he "hates" Liverpool.
Rooney, who was born in Liverpool and grew up as an Everton supporter, has spiced up Saturday's Old Trafford clash between United and Liverpool by claiming that he "grew up hating Liverpool and that hasn't changed."
Rooney has been a long-standing target of abuse from Liverpool supporters during encounters between the two clubs since his 30-million-pound move from Everton to Old Trafford in August 2004.
And United boss Ferguson admits that Rooney's Everton connections and subsequent transfer to United have coloured his feelings towards the Anfield outfit.
Ferguson said: "Wayne has had plenty of stick over the years when we has played against Liverpool, so it is understandable because he also had loyalties to Everton as a kid.
"As (Everton manager) David Moyes has pointed out, the rivalry between Everton and Liverpool is now ferocious.
"And now that Wayne has come to Manchester United, he obviously wants us to win, so I don't think it was anything out of the ordinary.
"The word wasn't used the right way. Everyone uses the word 'hatred' because it's easy to say. Nobody uses the word 'dislike.'
"Hate is an easy word to use, but it doesn't mean a lot really."
Rooney made his comments on Wednesday in the aftermath of United's Champions League win over Inter Milan.
They appeared on the club's website on Thursday but were quickly pulled down because of fears they could inflame the atmosphere surrounding Saturday's match. "The comments are open to wilful mis-reporting and neither the club, nor Wayne wanted that to happen," a club spokesman explained.
United can stretch their lead over Liverpool to ten points with a game in hand by beating Rafa Benitez's men in Saturday's lunchtime clash. But despite United's commanding lead at the top of the Premier League, Ferguson continues to insist that his team are unlikely to end the season with a clean sweep of trophies from the five competitions they entered.
He said: "We never talk about the quintuple here and I personally don't think that it can be done. All we are doing is taking each game as it comes and at least our form is encouraging.
"Our performance at Fulham last Saturday was as good as we have performed for a while, so we are looking strong. Liverpool is always our biggest game, though, and I won't be holding anybody back on Saturday, that's for sure.
"It will be fierce and competitive with a wonderful atmosphere and I expect it to be a good game."
United face Liverpool without any fresh injury concerns following Wednesday's Champions League win against Inter Milan at Old Trafford.
But with his team having just two-and-half days to prepare for the game, Ferguson admits that he is preparing to rotate his squad against Rafael Benitez's men.
Ferguson said: "It's a big game for us, but the difficult thing for me is to pick the right team.
"Liverpool have had an extra day of rest having played Real Madrid on Tuesday night, so I have to bear that in mind.
"I will freshen up where I need to, but so far this season, we have handled that well."
Changes are most likely to come in midfield, where Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs all performed below their best in the midweek win over Inter Milan. Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung are standing by to come in and Carlos Tevez.
Dimitar Berbatov also had a poor game against the Italians but Ferguson has tended to stick by the Bulgarian striker for United's biggest games, to the frustration of Carlos Tevez.