FOR the second time this season, Martin Atkinson will referee a Premier League encounter between fierce rivals Liverpool and Manchester United.
The 43-year-old will be in the middle at Anfield on Sunday afternoon as the two top-four chasing sides do battle with just two points separating the sides heading into the weekend.
The West Yorkshireman was branded incompetent just a month ago for his handling of Chelsea’s match with Burnley in which he failed to send off Ashley Barnes for a reckless challenge on Nemanja Matic, who was dismissed for his reaction.
He also turned down three Chelsea penalty appeals and was left out for the next round of Premier League games before returning to action.
Atkinson was also in the headlines as recently as Sunday for two controversial decisions in Everton’s 3-0 win over Newcastle with Magpies skipper Fabricio Coloccini seeing red and the Toffees awarded a spotkick.
The Bradford-based whistler will be assisted by fellow Fifa officials Stephen Child and Mike Mullarkey on Merseyside for the 1:30pm kick-off (live on Sky Sports).
Devon linesman Mullarkey failed to spot Juan Mata was offside in the build-up to United’s second goal in their 3-0 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford in December.
Atkinson was also in control of that reverse meeting this term which passed without any other notable incidents.
Andre Marriner – who has officiated this corresponding fixture three times in the past including last season’s contest – has been assigned to fourth official duties.
Leeds United fan Atkinson has overseen 34 games in all competitions this season – issuing 126 yellow cards, sending off six players and awarding six penalties.
He is also one red card away from the 50th of his Premier League career while Liverpool v Manchester United clashes have produced 20 red cards – more than any other fixture in Premier League history with the Merseyside derby the only exception.
Atkinson has officiated more top-flight matches this season (24) than any other Select Group official – one more than Jon Moss at this stage.
Besides the aforementioned United-Liverpool meeting, he has handled two other games involving Louis van Gaal’s team.
He has also refereed two other Liverpool games – their derby draw with Everton in September and Capital One Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea, both at Anfield.
Aside from those matches, Atkinson’s other high-profile appointments this season have included four Champions League encounters, a North London derby, Chelsea v Arsenal at Stamford Bridge and two Euro 2016 qualifiers.
The Fifa whistler abandoned one of those qualifiers between fierce rivals Serbia and Albania after just six minutes amid crowd disturbances, violence erupting on the pitch and a quadcopter being flown in the stadium.
He also received several high-profile matches last season including Liverpool’s win over Stoke in the first Premier League match of the season, the 2014 Capital One Cup final and a potential title decider between Liverpool and Chelsea.
The League Cup showpiece – won by Manchester City at Wembley – completed the set of domestic appointments for Atkinson.
He was also entrusted with the 2006 Community Shield, 2008 FA Trophy Final, 2011 FA Cup Final, 2013 Championship Play-Off Final and 2014 Women’s FA Cup Final.
After starting as a Football League linesman in 1998, promotion to the National Group list of referees followed two years later and Atkinson received his first Premier League game in April 2005 – just two years after his debut in the Conference.
He was called up to the Fifa list of international referees the year after, oversaw his first match in the Champions League proper in 2008 and was part of the Uefa Elite Category from the 2009-10 season.
Atkinson was the fourth official for the 2010 Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan at the Bernabeu and was an additional assistant referee at Euro 2012 as part of Howard Webb’s officiating teams.
He is still remembered for awarding a ghost goal in an FA Cup semi-final in 2012 between Tottenham and Chelsea, who won 5-1 at Wembley, when Juan Mata’s shot was cleared before crossing the goalline.
It will only be the third time Atkinson will take charge of a match between Manchester United and Liverpool in his esteemed officiating career.
His first was back in March 2007 when he sent off United midfielder Paul Scholes in their 1-0 Premier League win at Anfield – secured by a 90th minute winner from John O’Shea.
He was selected to oversee an FA Cup fourth-round meeting between the sides in January 2012 but was replaced by Mark Halsey due to illness.
After impressive wins last weekend, both sides head into the weekend separated by one place (fourth and fifth) and just two points with only nine games of the season remaining.