(CNN) -- Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has leapt to the defense of star striker Wayne Rooney over his declaration that he "hates" Liverpool ahead of the crunch Premier League title clash between the two sides on Saturday.
Rooney (left) and Ferguson pictured at United's Carrington training ground.
Rooney, who supported and then played for Liverpool's arch-rivals Everton, made the potentially inflammatory comments on United's official television channel MUTV.
"I have always hated Liverpool and that's not changed," said the England international, before going on to claim that if United were to win this weekend, Rafael Benitez's men would be out of the title race.
The item was later removed from the official Manchester United Web site with a club spokesman telling Press Association that this was the "best option."
He added: "The comments are open to wilful mis-reporting and neither the club nor Wayne wanted that to happen."
Ferguson was also at pains to play down the controversy on Friday ahead of Liverpool's visit to Old Trafford.
"Hate is an easy word to say, easier than dislike. Maybe it is not the right word," Ferguson told Sky Sports News.
"But Wayne has had plenty of stick from Liverpool fans over the years, so it is 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 is nothing out of the ordinary really."
The importance of Saturday's game to Liverpool cannot be underestimated, trailing United by seven points in the English standings having played a game more.
Tuesday's Champions League rout of Real Madrid has given Benitez and his men renewed confidence and they are also set to have the services of star striker Fernando Torres.
The Spain international is having intensive treatment on an injured ankle but told Press Association "I'm training hard and think I will be 100 per cent for Saturday. It's a massive game that I hope to win."
If Torres is fit, Liverpool are set to field a first-choice line-up with Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso looking to control center midfield with Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel playing wide and Steven Gerrard and Torres marauding through the middle.
Liverpool would complete a rare double over United with victory after beating them at Anfield in September, but United are looking for their 12th successive win as they bid for an unlikely quintuple.
Unusually, Ferguson criticized his players after the 2-0 Champions League win over Inter Milan and could make changes in midfield with Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung pushing for a recall.
Ferguson must also decide whether to retain Dimitar Berbatov up front ahead of Carlos Tevez who has been in outstanding form in recent appearances.