Martin Atkinson has been in the headlines this week having been appointed to referee England’s billboard fixture just just 72 hours after refereeing Sevilla v Villarreal in the Europa League. There are a number of factors Atkinson must take in the account when officiating this crucial tie between Liverpool and Manchester United. The first one being his fitness.
Former Premier League referee Mark Halsey took to Kikka.com to vent his frustration at the PGMOL’s decision to field Atkinson in this crucial tie.
He said; “SOMEONE down at the PGMOL needs an atlas because they seem to be struggling with geography at the moment. Why on earth has Martin Atkinson been appointed to referee the Liverpool v Manchester United game when he’s travelling all the way to Sevilla in midweek on European duty?
“One of the biggest games of the season, which could mean millions when you look at Champions League qualification, and we’re asking him to be at his best after flying back from Spain not 48 hours earlier. It’s mad.”
Atkinson has been under pressure to perform this season after questions were raised over his handling of the Nemanja Matic incident during Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Burnley in February. Jose Mourinho claimed Atkinson missed a number of key moments in the game and called for more technology to help officials get decisions right. And it appears that Mourinho was not the only one to have raised concerns over Atkinson’s performances. Halsey has claimed that dips in a referee’s form are only natural when returning from over seas in such a tight time frame.
“I’ve already raised concerns about Martin’s performance levels after coming back from Europa League games, and I can totally understand how taxing all the travelling can be on your body.”
Liverpool vs Manchester United can be an extremely demanding fixture, it’s possible that the Anfield crowd will be drawn into play and it’s important Atkinson holds his nerve. But it also doesn’t help that he has been appointed to referee this fixture when another top referee lives down the road in St Helens.
If United are going to come out on top on Sunday they are going to need a commanding performance from the referee on key decisions which could swing the tie in their favour.
When United have played away from home this season Premier League officials have been guilty of penalising Maruone Fellaini in one on one situations and Atkinson must be fair in his assessment of the Belgian on Sunday. Fellaini is in fantastic form for the Red Devils having scored the opener against Spurs last weekend and he will be a key figure if United are going to take three points from Anfield. Another key area of focus for Martin Atkinson will be whether Raheem Sterling has genuinely beaten his marker or whether he has gone down like a ton of bricks. When you look at United’s wingers, Angel Di Maria, Adnan Januzaj and Ashley Young, all three players have been scrutinised for diving during their time at Old Trafford. Each potential incident has been reviewed 19/20 times on MOTD from a variety of different angles and yet I don’t know what it is about Raheem Sterling, but he seems to be able to escape this type of criticism. There is no doubt that the England youngster has incredible pace and the ability to go past players, but in one on one situations it’s likely he will topple over rather than stay on his feet. It’s key that the officials manage this in order for game to be played at the right tempo. If tempo goes out of the game United will struggle to break Liverpool down.
Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal is no stranger to pressure. During his time at Barcelona he had to work in the shadow of Johan Cruyff, his predecessor Bobby Robson found himself undermined by Cruyff in the local press, but in LVG’s case he came out fighting.
Van Gaal found the best way to face down his critics was to beat Real Madrid. A derby likened to our own, Liverpool vs United. Of his six Clasicos, he lost just one. Louis van Gaal’s side has come out fighting against the best in the Premier League this season and they will face down their critics again on Sunday.
But what is important is that the referee allows it to be a physical flowing Barclay’s Premier League tie and it doesn’t turn into the theatrics of El Classico. For that to happen the referee needs to be strong and commanding let’s hope fatigue has not compromised his performance.