CONTROVERSIAL referee Mark Clattenburg will be the man in the middle for the Premier League title showdown between Chelsea and Manchester City this weekend.
The 39-year-old has been appointed as the referee as the top two go head to head at Stamford Bridge in Saturday’s teatime kick-off live on Sky Sports (KO 17:30 GMT).
He will be assisted by linesmen Jake Collin (Merseyside) and Simon Beck (Bedfordshire) while Jon Moss (West Yorkshire) has been assigned to fourth official duties.
It is the County Durham whistler’s first televised top-flight match in four months – since Leicester beat Manchester United 5-3 at the King Power Stadium back in September.
Clattenburg will handle his first Chelsea game of the campaign – and first since a London derby against Fulham nine months ago – while it will be only his third Stamford Bridge visit since he was accused of using racist language towards Blues midfielder Jon Obi Mikel against Manchester United in October 2012.
It will be his third City match of the season with the others against Arsenal in September and West Brom on Boxing Day.
The Fifa official also oversaw a potentially title-defining encounter involving Manchester City last April when they lost 3-2 to Liverpool, who eventually finished second, at Anfield.
His only other Chelsea-City match came in December 2011 when the Blues came from behind in a 2-1 victory in west London – with Clattenburg sending off City left-back Gael Clichy before awarding the hosts a penalty which Frank Lampard converted for the winning goal.
The contest is being billed as a decisive one which could have a major say in who lifts the trophy in May.
The two sides – who drew 1-1 at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season – are separated by five points with the table-topping Blues five points clear of second-placed City.
Clattenburg may also have to contend with antics off the pitch with managers Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini almost coming to blows in the aftermath of Fernando Torres’ late winner for Chelsea in the corresponding fixture last term.
It will be Clattenburg’s 14th Premier League game of the season and his 25th in all competitions – in which he has brandished 99 yellow cards, sent off two players and awarded eight penalties.
He shared the pitch with Midlands rivals Birmingham and West Brom in their FA Cup fourth round tie at St Andrews last Saturday.
Since the retirement of Howard Webb MBE, Clattenburg was expected to assume the mantle of England’s top match official although it has not quite materialised that way.
He began the season having officiated the Uefa Super Cup between Real Madrid and Sevilla in Cardiff and three straight Premier League games in August.
But the Newcastle United supporter, who is also a trained electrician, has been out of favour since being dropped for one weekend in October for leaving a game in his own car to attend an Ed Sheeran concert and speaking to a manager on the phone in the absence of fellow officials.
His lack of high-profile games in recent months has led to speculation about why he has been cast into the wilderness – especially when the standards of officiating were criticised over the festive period.
Selecting Clattenburg for the game was almost forced upon the PGMOL, however, with his fellow so-called “big hitters” – the likes of Martin Atkinson, Mike Dean and Michael Oliver – having already taken charge of both teams this month.
The choice of referee has not gone down too well on social media – particularly among Chelsea and Manchester City supporters…
He has handled over 200 Premier League matches since his promotion to the Select Group in 2004 but was suspended in 2008 for eight months for breaching his contract in relation to personal business deals.
Despite dividing opinion, Clattenburg is highly regarded on the domestic, European and international scene with regular appointments in the Champions League and Europa League.
He is expected to be the leading contender to be England’s representative for Euro 2016 in France and the 2018 World Cup in Russia.