Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers backs Luis Suarez to handle Old Trafford atmosphere

Luis Suarez: Unbowed by criticism

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists striker Luis Suarez thrives on the abuse and criticism he receives ahead of a potentially incendiary atmosphere at Old Trafford this weekend.

Manchester United fans have not forgiven the Uruguay international after he was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra and then refused to shake the defender's hand in the subsequent league encounter last February.

But Rodgers is confident the 25-year-old can cope with any abuse aimed at him during Liverpool's clash with United on Sunday.

"His mental fitness is very strong," said the Reds boss. "He is a player who, like most top players, can cope mentally and you have to because of the pressures they put on themselves to perform and the pressures of playing for a big club.

"But I think he has been admirable. He has never come in here any day not smiling and working hard.

"Like with all the players I always spend the time to make sure he is in a good way not just on the field but off it and he has been no different.

"If anything he thrives on it and it gives him a greater motivation and I think everyone has seen that since he has been here."

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was less sure of the reputation attached to Suarez, who recently incited further controversy when he appeared to handle the winning goal in Liverpool's 2-1 FA Cup win at Mansfield.

Ferguson said: "I didn't see the Mansfield game, so it's difficult to say if it was deliberate or not. But I think the lad is laden with controversy. I don't know if he enjoys it or not."

Former director of football Damien Comolli, who signed Suarez from Ajax for £22.7million in January 2011, fears further criticism could drive the striker out of the English football.

"It'll be an absolute shame for English football if this victimisation drives him away," he told BBC Sport.

"As the biggest league in the world you want to keep the biggest players, not drive them away for crazy reasons."

On the match-up between Suarez and in-form United striker Robin van Persie, Rodgers insisted that, while he could not separate the two, he stood firmly behind his man.

Rodgers confident ahead of derby

Rodgers said: "I already have Luis Suarez so I wouldn't want to swap.

"I can only comment on Luis, I can't comment on who is the better because all strikers bring different things to the game.

"I think we are blessed to have someone like Luis, who carried the club for six months on his own in terms of being the only fit, available striker we had here.

"Some people have off-days but he is up for every game and his motivation is at a high level every day in training.

"Thankfully now people are looking more at his good side but you have to be careful when that happens because I always think praise is the tool which is used to kill you later on.

"He is a guy who just gets on with it. It is great he is in great form and we hope that continues."

Manchester Utd v Liverpool is live on Sky Sports 1 this Sunday. For more details click here