MICHAEL Oliver will take charge of a Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United for the first time at Stamford Bridge this weekend.
The 30-year-old, from Northumberland, will oversee Sunday’s televised encounter as the in-form champions welcome an indifferent United side to West London (KO 16:00 GMT – live on Sky Sports 1).
He will be assisted by experienced linesmen Stuart Burt (Northamptonshire) and Gary Beswick (County Durham) while Craig Pawson – who will also be the fourth official in Saturday’s game between Aston Villa and Norwich at Villa Park – will be on electronic board duties.
Oliver has refereed 20 matches in all competitions this term – brandishing 66 yellow cards, sending off five players and awarding nine penalties.
The Fifa Category One official didn’t officiate a game for six weeks across October and November after being selected for the U17 World Cup in Chile – where he oversaw three games including the final between Mali and Nigeria alongside Burt and Beswick.
Oliver’s most recent game in the middle was Tottenham’s 4-1 win at League One Colchester in the FA Cup fourth round in last Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.
It will be the Ashingdon-based whistler’s third game of the season involving Chelsea after controlling their 2-2 draw with Swansea on the opening weekend – in which he sent off Blues keeper Thibault Courtois for bringing down Bafetimbi Gomis.
He was also in the middle for their goalless draw against Tottenham at White Hart Lane at the end of November – dishing out six yellow cards in a largely incident-free game.
Oliver, the youngest of the 17 full-time Select Group referees, has also handled two United matches so far in 2015-16 – both at Old Trafford.
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 appeared to square up to the official.
In United’s FA Cup quarter-final with Arsenal last March, Oliver dismissed Angel di Maria for diving and then tugging his shirt within the space of a minute. His performance received widespread plaudits on Twitter and among the refereeing fraternity.
In order to be considered to have a similarly good game this weekend, Oliver will have to deal with Chelsea striker Diego Costa, notorious for his aggressive and confrontational style with opponents and officials alike.
Even more experienced referees have struggled to handle Costa’s antics this season so – amid a fiery atmosphere in a high-profile showdown between the two heavyweights – Oliver is likely to have a tough task on his hands.
The former Newcastle youth player has previous with Costa having controversially booked the Spaniard for diving against Burnley on the opening weekend last season.
Earlier this season, Oliver made headlines when stepping in to replace an injured official at a women’s match being refereed by his wife Lucy, while he stepped down as head of Northumberland FA’s referee academy in November 2014.
Oliver – whose father Clive was a Football League referee until retiring in 2009 – 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 – and has progressed to Fifa level having impressed in handling over 120 top-flight matches.
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.
Oliver has also handled two FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley and was an additional assistant referee for the 2014 Uefa Super Cup – a role he could fulfill as part of Mark Clattenburg or Martin Atkinson’s officiating team for Euro 2016.
Atkinson was the man in the middle for the reverse fixture at Old Trafford in December when the sides played out a goalless stalemate while the corresponding clash in SW3 last season was handled by Mike Dean as Eden Hazard’s goal gave Chelsea a 1-0 win.
United have not got the better of the boys in blue since the hugely controversial 3-2 win at the Bridge in October 2012 which had ramifications for one particular official.
Oliver will be hoping for a quieter day than his good friend Clattenburg had on that occasion.