Ref In Focus: Man City should not be looking forward to meeting Martin Atkinson at Anfield

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The Premier League’s top two, both unbeaten so far this season and the favourites to contest the title, meet this Sunday at Anfield. It’s too early for this clash between Liverpool and Manchester City to be called a title decider but it could certainly have a big impact upon the rest of the campaign to come.

Liverpool have not been in great form of late, and are winless in their last three matches in all competitions. However, the Reds have been handed a welcome boost ahead of this weekend’s crunch encounter in the form of Martin Atkinson’s appointment as the referee for the match.

City do not have a good recent record in matches that have been officiated by Atkinson. The last time Pep Guardiola’s men played under Atkinson’s watch was their 1-1 draw with Wolves. In fact, on three of the last four occasions that the Cityzens have dropped points, Atkinson has been the man in the middle.

That being said, Liverpool can hardly expect to have it all their own way on Sunday. The stats suggest that Atkinson’s strict approach could hamper both sides and lead to a bitty affair, rather than the free flowing spectacle that many are hoping for and expecting these two entertaining teams to produce.

What’s more, one stat City may cling to whilst making the short trip to Anfield is the fact that over the course of the 2017/18 season, Atkinson registered a 39.3% away team win bias (and only a 35.7% home win bias) which was the third highest out of all 21 of the referees to have presided over a top flight match last term. 

Bad news comes for both clubs, though, in the form of Atkinson’s disciplinary records. Last season, the 47-year-old produced 102 yellow cards, second only to Jonathan Moss out of the 21 referees. He averaged 3.64 bookings per game and 0.18 red cards per match. No referee showed more than Atkinson’s five red cards last season.

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Atkinson’s matches also often featured a high foul tally. He averaged 21.75 fouls per game last season, which saw him rank 8th out of the 21. He came in a place higher, in 7th, in terms of fouls per tackle too, with 0.66 fouls per tackle awarded.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the above stats, Atkinson only averaged 0.11 penalties per game last season – placing him 17th out of the 21. At the very least then, we’re probably unlikely to see any spot kicks given on Sunday.

Neither Jurgen Klopp’s men nor Guardiola’s will benefit from a game being consistently broken up to the sound of Atkinson’s whistle. However, given that the hosts probably carry a greater set piece threat than the visitors and how they’ll also appreciate any interruptions to City’s rhythm, Atkinson’s presence ought to play into their hands slightly.