THE war of words between Liverpool and Manchester United's Patrice Evra continues to escalate as Luis Suárez strongly denied allegations of racism.
Liverpool are standing firmly behind their South American striker following the Manchester United captain's provocative claims after Saturday's 1-1 draw.
The Football Association have asked to meet Evra to discuss his assertion, that Suárez subjected him to persistent racial abuse.
If it is decided there is no case to answer, Liverpool expect Evra to be subject to disciplinary measures and banned due to the seriousness of his accusations.
Suárez strenuously denies any wrongdoing, and last night released a statement expressing his hurt at being caught up in the controversy.
"I'm upset by the accusations of racism," Suárez said.
"I can only say that I have always respected and respect everybody. We are all the same. I go to the field with the maximum illusion of a little child who enjoys what he does, not to create conflicts."
Liverpool have offered their full support to the player and their already frosty relations with Manchester United threaten to deteriorate even further as a consequence of Evra's statements.
A fresh Anfield statement said: "Luis is adamant that he has not used language of that nature and the club is totally supportive of the player."
United are making no comment on the affair following the start of the FA investigation.
As a matter of protocol, the FA must first speak to Evra before deciding what action, if any, is required. If the defender repeats the claims he made on a French TV channel to the FA, Suárez will be summoned to provide his version of events.
Match referee Andre Marriner was compelled to report the incident to the authorities after being made aware of the complaints after the full-time whistle.
He was unaware of any inappropriate language during the game itself, but Evra was adamant Suárez was continuously using racist slurs.
The pair could be seen involved in regular verbal and physical altercations during the game, but there was little hint of the extent of the row which was to follow.
Most of Liverpool's staff and Suárez's team-mates were completely unaware of any possible racial element to the quarrel until they read about it at the training ground yesterday morning.
"There are cameras, you can see him. He says a certain word to me at least 10 times," Evra said in his interview with French television.
"I was very upset. In 2011 you can't say things like this. He knows what he said, the ref knows it, it will come out.
"I won't repeat what he said, but it was a racist word, and he said it more than 10 times.
"He tried to wind me up. I won't make a huge deal out of it, but it's very upsetting and disappointing."
Evra was set to fly to Bucharest today with the rest of the Manchester United team for tomorrow's Champions League tie, and the FA will not impose any timescale to resolve the issue.
They are acutely aware of the sensitivities surrounding the furore, particularly given the rivalry between the clubs involved and the potential for further antagonism.
A statement from the FA said: "Referee Marriner was made aware of an allegation at the end of the fixture and subsequently reported this to the FA. The FA will now begin making enquiries into the matter."
Liverpool initially released a statement on the player's behalf on Saturday evening making it clear he rejected Evra's comments.
"The first thing we did, as you would expect, is ask the player and he has categorically denied using any language of that nature," it said.
The club's stance toughened even more over the following 24 hours with the more emphatically supportive statement on Suárez's behalf.
Evra has been caught up in similar rows before, although he has never made allegations himself. Three years ago he was at the centre of a race row when Chelsea groundsman Sam Bethel was accused, and later exonerated, after a member of United's staff said he used racist language against the French full-back.
Five years ago, Liverpool's Steve Finnan was also subjected to a police investigation, and then cleared, after TV viewers suggested they had lip-read a racist insult aimed at Evra.
The latest incident comes as the anti-discrimination body Kick It Out promotes its weeks of action, which began last Thursday and run through to October 31.
Indeed, Liverpool's home Premier League match against Norwich next Saturday was marked in the calendar as offering high-profile support for Kick It Out's 'One Game, One Community' campaign.