There’s been plenty of talk about Michael Oliver’s apparent affinity for Tottenham Hotspur and his seeming dislike of Liverpool, with the referee appointed to oversee Saturday’s early kickoff.
The statistics are certainly intriguing. Whereas Tottenham are on an eight-game winning run from matches with the 33-year-old in charge and have tasted victory 18 times from the 29 Spurs matches Oliver has officiated, Liverpool have won just 14 from a possible 33 – less than half.
But if we’re delving into the numbers and taking them at face value, then there’s a pivotal counterweight to bear in mind. Oliver’s home win bias in the Premier League last season was a mere 30%.
To put that in some perspective, just one referee to officiate more than one match in the Premier League last season had a lower percentage of home victories – that was the somewhat dubious Jonathan Moss.
Suddenly, the chances of Tottenham extending their winning run under Oliver seem greatly reduced, although both teams will need to be wary of the official’s disciplined style.
From the 21 referees to work in the top flight last season, he averaged the second-most fouls and red cards per game, while ranking in the top seven for penalties and fouls per tackle.
On the surface, that doesn’t really help or hinder either side particularly. So far this season, there has been a mere 1.3 difference between Tottenham and Liverpool for tackles per match, and an even smaller difference of 0.5 for fouls per match.
Nonetheless, considering how close an encounter Saturday’s game will likely be, one key call from the referee could decide the encounter – and Oliver seems more than happy to make it.