MICHAEL Oliver has been confirmed as the referee for Manchester United’s eagerly-awaited Premier League encounter with Liverpool on Saturday.
It will be the first time the 30-year-old, from Northumberland, will oversee a north-west derby between the two heavyweights when they meet at Old Trafford in the teatime kick-off.
He will be assisted by Fifa linesmen Gary Beswick (County Durham) and Stuart Burt (Northamptonshire) while the fourth official will be Lee Mason (Lancashire).
Oliver is one of only three referees – along with Martin Atkinson and Craig Pawson – who will have officiated a Premier League every weekend so far this season.
The Ashingdon-based whistler has already issued three red cards in four games – more than any other Select Group official.
He dismissed Chelsea goalkeeper Thibault Courtois for what he perceived to be a last-man challenge on Bafetimbi Gomis in their 2-2 draw with Swansea before being the fourth official for Arsenal’s first home game against West Ham on the opening weekend.
Before the international break, the Fifa Category One official incurred the wrath of Stoke boss Mark Hughes after reducing his side to nine men inside 35 minutes of their 1-0 home defeat by West Brom – sending off Ibrahim Afellay and Charlie Adam on the advice of his assistants.
Oliver was also criticised by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers for failing to send off Chelsea striker Diego Costa for stamps on Martin Skrtel and Emre Can in their Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge in January.
It was one of five Liverpool games he handled last season – the others being the 3-1 defeat at Manchester City; the 2-1 home win over West Brom; the 2-2 home draw with Arsenal (when he sent off Fabio Borini); and the 2-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa at Wembley.
Last season, Oliver sent off United defender Chris Smalling for two bookable offences during November’s Manchester derby defeat to City but was criticised for failing to take action against City goalkeeper Joe Hart, who squared up to the official.
In United’s FA Cup quarter-final with Arsenal in March, Oliver dismissed Angel di Maria for diving and then tugging his shirt within the space of a minute.
He was also in the middle for United’s 1-1 draw with Stoke City on New Year’s Day and awarded them a controversial penalty for an alleged Scott Dann handball in their 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace in May.
It promises to be another tough assignment for Oliver in what is regarded by many as English football’s biggest game.
Oliver became the youngest official in Premier League history when he was in the middle for Birmingham’s 2-1 victory over Blackburn in August 2010.
He had spent three years in the Football League and four years at non-league level before gaining promotion to the Select Group at the start of the 2010-11 season.
Oliver’s most prestigious appointments came last term when overseeing Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Manchester City in the Community Shield and the FA Trophy Final between Wrexham and North Ferriby United, both at Wembley Stadium.
He has also been the man in the middle for the 2009 League One Play-Off Final as well as the fourth official for both the Capital One Cup Final and Community Shield in 2013.
Oliver recently hit the headlines when stepping in to replace an injured official at a women’s match being refereed by his wife Lucy.
ELSEWHERE THIS WEEKEND….
Football League referee Stuart Attwell will receive a second Premier League trial game in the space of a year at the Hawthorns on Saturday afternoon.
The 32-year-old from Warwickshire has been selected to officiate West Bromwich Albion’s home game with Southampton (KO 3pm) with the assistance of Mark Scholes, Jake Collin and fourth official Mike Dean.
At the age of 25, Attwell became the youngest-ever Premier League official in 2008 after just one season on the National List and became Fifa accredited a year later but he was demoted by the PGMOL in February 2012 following a series of controversial decisions.
The Nuneaton-based whistler oversaw his first top-flight match since January 2012 when handling West Brom’s 1-0 win at Leicester last November while his final game as a permanent Select Group referee also involved the Baggies.
He joins Simon Hooper, Paul Tierney and Keith Stroud in being handed a one-off match already this season as a member of the Talent Group of Football League referees being assessed for their promotion potential.
Attwell has officiated two Capital One Cup ties and a game in each Football League division so far this term – brandishing 14 yellow cards but is yet to send a player off or award a penalty.
The reaction among refereeing circles has largely been positive…
“Good luck to Stuart Attwell – he’s worked so hard to improve himself in the last couple of seasons. Delighted to see him being given another chance,” one said.
Another wrote: “When he did the Sunderland V Exeter game a couple of weeks ago he was so anonymous that it could have been 22 lads kicking about on a field so I am pleased to see his improvement has been recognised.”
Mike Jones will be in the middle as the Premier League’s top two meet at Selhurst Park on Saturday (KO 3pm).
The 47-year-old from Cheshire has had an impressive start to the campaign and will oversee his fourth top-flight match when leaders Manchester City visit Alan Pardew’s in-form Crystal Palace.
Jones has already officiated Everton’s 2-2 draw with Watford, Swansea’s 2-0 win over Newcastle and Tottenham’s goalless draw with Everton – dishing out 12 yellow cards and sending off Daryl Janmaat at the Liberty Stadium.
He reached the milestone of 150 Premier League games at White Hart Lane before the international break.
Jones was also in charge of the 1-1 draw between Yorkshire rivals Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday at Elland Road in the SkyBet Championship last month.
He will be assisted in south London by linesmen Richard West and Adam Nunn with Roger East the fourth official.
The Chester-based official will still be remembered by City fans for wrongly booking Sergio Aguero for diving in their 3-0 win at Southampton in January when he was fouled in the box by Saints defender Jose Fonte.
He was subsequently dropped from the Premier League list for the following weekend with pundit Jamie Carragher and ex-referee Graham Poll describing it as “the worst decision of the season”.
The last time Jones officiated a game involving managers Pardew and Manuel Pellegrini they were involved in a bust-up after the referee dubiously ruled out a Newcastle goal in their 2-0 defeat by City in January 2014.
ALSO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR….
Roger East will again be on Football League duty this weekend and fellow Select Group referee Neil Swarbrick has been jettisoned to League Two after a poor start to the campaign.
East, from Wiltshire, is still yet to officiate a Premier League match this season having handled Portsmouth’s 3-3 draw with Morecambe in League Two and Bury’s 1-1 draw with Oldham in League One although he was the fourth official for Swansea’s 2-1 win over Manchester United.
The 50-year-old – who has been in the top-flight since 2012-13 – will take charge of the televised Championship encounter between Reading and Ipswich on Friday night with assistant referees Andy Garratt, Andrew Fox and fourth official Charles Brakespear.
East was involved in last season’s Championship play-offs – overseeing the semi-final second leg between Norwich and Ipswich before performing fourth official duties at the Wembley final.
Lancashire-based Swarbrick was criticised for his display in his second top-flight game of the season – Bournemouth’s draw with Leicester before the international break – in which he awarded a free-kick rather than a penalty and failed to take control of several situations.
The 49-year-old from Preston also had an indifferent performance in Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Swansea and will be assisted by Matthew Wilkes, Constantine Hatzidakis and fourth official Derek Eaton for Northampton’s fourth-tier clash with Oxford United at Sixfields on Saturday.
He will also be the fourth official for Monday’s Premier League match between West Ham and Newcastle at Upton Park.
However, there is no involvement for Mark Clattenburg or newly-promoted official Graham Scott, who is believed to be injured.