MANCHESTER United are open to the prospect of wide-ranging discussions with Liverpool in an effort to defuse what has become potentially the most emotive and delicate encounter yet between the century-old rivals.
United are to visit Liverpool a week on Sunday in what will be the first fixture staged at Anfield since the Hillsborough Independent Panel released documents relating the 1989 disaster.
With the documents not only exonerating Liverpool fans from contributing to the full extent of the tragedy, but also exposing a widescale cover-up by the authorities, Anfield is expected to pay tribute to the Hillsborough victims and those who have led the 'Justice for the 96' campaign when Liverpool next play at home.
The visit of United for the fixture has created a sense of trepidation, however, because of the long-standing and deep-rooted hostility between the rival supporters, an enmity which reached new levels last season as a result of the racism furore involving Liverpool's Luis Suarez and United defender Patrice Evra.
Previous encounters have been marred by ugly chants from both groups of fans, with songs mocking the 1958 Munich air disaster and the tragedies at Heysel and Hillsborough.
Talks between senior figures at Anfield and Old Trafford have yet to take place, with the Merseyside club still coming to terms with the panel's revelations. But it's understood there is a desire within both clubs to discuss ways to lower the temperature ahead of next week's fixture.
Prior to United's derby with Manchester City in February 2008, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster, high-level talks between club officials and fans' groups led to the game passing peacefully.
Sven-Goran Eriksson, the City manager at the time, laid a wreath in the centre circle at Old Trafford prior to kick-off and the gesture was credited with contributing to the lack of hostility during that game.
United have yet to assess the options open to them at Anfield, although there is a possibility that Alex Ferguson will write to supporters attending the game -- a move he has made in the past -- to call for restraint and respect. (© Daily Telegraph, London)