Ref in Focus: Michael Oliver will let the tackles fly during West Ham & Spurs’ heated derby

West Ham vs Tottenham represents the headline clash in the Premier League this weekend; a London derby famed for little love lost between the two sets of fans, unpredictable results, relentless drama and full-blooded tackles. That’s how we like them in the Premier League and with neither team enjoying a particularly convincing start to the season, Saturday’s instalment should see both sides of the rivalry push for the win in an ever-hostile atmosphere.

Safe to say, Michael Oliver isn’t one of the Premier League’s more popular referees – then again, you don’t become a top-flight official to win a popularity contest. But for the neutrals particularly, Oliver could be the ideal man to have behind the whistle this weekend; few referees in the Premier League last season let the game flow as much as the 32-year-old, who ranked 13th or lower out of the 19 referees involved throughout 2016/17 for fouls per game, fouls per tackle and cards per game.

At first glance, that would suit Tottenham’s style of play more than the Hammers’. Spurs have produced the sixth-most fouls of any Premier League side this season, largely a consequence of their high-pressing game, while West Ham have committed the sixth-fewest throughout the division.

But considering the likely dynamics of the match on Sunday, Oliver’s more lenient approach to challenges and fouls surely plays more into West Ham’s hands – after all, it’ll most likely be Tottenham who claim the lion’s share of possession and the Hammers who look to stifle the match as much as possible before taking their chances on the counter.

At the same time, the number of games Olivier was involved in last season that resulted in home wins was quite remarkable, 22 from 33. In fact, only one referee had a higher home win bias at the end of 2016/17, Graham Scott.

The potential saving grace for Tottenham, however, in addition to being the more capable side on paper, is the frequency with which Oliver awarded penalties last term, ranking top throughout the Premier League. West Ham have already given away two this season, both away against Southampton, and their defenders have a penchant for rashness when put under pressure inside the box. Oliver’s only awarded one so far this season, so the chances are that he’ll produce another this weekend.

All in all though, Oliver looks like the right man to oversee what will be a hotly-contested derby.