When Mark Clattenburg leaves these shores for life in the middle East, the Premier League will be in something of a bind: it’s hard to know exactly who the next best referee is, and losing a man who only last year refereed the finals of the FA Cup and the Champions League in consecutive weeks is a big blow.
Michel Oliver, though, is a name that stands out. And perhaps that’s why he’s been handed the Premier League’s biggest game this weekend.
Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are two of the league’s most animated managers, and whilst a game of this magnitude is always likely to rest on key decisions, both will be keen to get whatever advantage they can.
As for the game itself, it is likely to be a fast paced one with a lot of high pressing and borderline decisions, but Oliver is unlikely to be too swayed by the gravity of the game or the fact that many of his decisions could be crucial.
One of the ways we know this is because of his low red card rate. His stats show that he is unlikely to send anyone off, and his management of the game is usually outstanding in this regard – his yellow card rate is average, but he gives a red card only once every 10 games, meaning that he knows when to give a card to settle a fiery game, and that he knows when to calm players down when necessary.
One stat that does stand out, though, is the amount of times that Oliver presides over games that the away team win.
It shouldn’t be surprising that a referee’s stats would be skewed slightly in favour of the home team as home teams usually win, and that means away teams usually make more tackles and fouls. But the percentage of away wins in Oliver’s games is very low, and although that may well be a coincidence, it also probably means that Liverpool should be wary of going in too hard on City’s players.
Even if City are rattled by a high press and players willing to tackle with physicality, Oliver is a referee who takes the sting out of the game. If Liverpool are to rattle City, they can’t let that happen, and that means they need to be smart about how they tackle, especially with a referee who likes the game to be under his control at all times.