Sir Alex Ferguson has defended Wayne Rooney following the Manchester United striker's admission that he 'hates' Saturday's opponents Liverpool.
Rooney's incendiary comments were published on the club's official website on Thursday before being withdrawn later in the day.
Liverpudlian Rooney, who grew up supporting Merseyside rivals Everton before playing for the Toffees, is usually the target of abuse when he faces Liverpool.
But ahead of Saturday's Premier League title showdown at Old Trafford, United boss Ferguson has defended his striker's comments.
"Hate's an easy word to say, easier than dislike. Maybe it is not the right word," said Ferguson. "He's had lots of stick from their fans over the years, so it's understandable.
"He supported Everton as a kid and the rivalry between them and Liverpool is pretty ferocious now.
"Since then he has come to Manchester United and he wants to win. It's nothing out of the ordinary really."
Rooney's comments came after Wednesday's Champions League last 16 victory over Internazionale.
Speaking to the club's own MUTV channel, he said: "I'm very excited about the game because I grew up as an Everton fan hating Liverpool, that hasn't changed.
"We're in pole position and know if we can beat Liverpool then that'll more or less end their chances of winning the league."
The interview was not aired by the channel but the club's official website used them in a story on Thursday before they were picked up by media outlets.
Meanwhile, Ferguson has reported no fresh injury concerns ahead of the Saturday lunchtime clash.
Leaders United are currently seven points ahead of the third-placed Reds with an additional game in hand and will again be missing Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Rafael and Owen Hargreaves.
"There are no new injuries which is great news," confirmed Ferguson.
"Sometimes you can pick up knocks during a European game but everyone seems to be fine.
"The difficult part now is picking a team. We'll need plenty of freshness for this important match, especially as Liverpool had an extra day's rest.
"I now need to consider my team selection very seriously."