Ref in Focus: Martin Atkinson offers mixed omens for Chelsea head of Newcastle clash

Only two officials have refereed more Premier League games than Martin Atkinson this season, which tells all about the high esteem he’s held in by the PGMOB – who appoint the referees for every Premier League game.

There’s no questioning Atkinson’s experience, having worked in the English top flight for some 13 years now, but if there’s one flaw to what the Yorkshireman brings to his trade, it’s the bizarre contradiction between what happens inside and outside the box during his matches.

Indeed, while Atkinson ranks eighth for fouls per game and third for yellow cards per game throughout the 20 referees to work in the top flight this season, his ranking for penalties is comparatively much lower – with just three referees averaging less penalties per match this term.

And there are two ways of looking at that return. One is that Atkinson doesn’t ruin games by giving away needless spot kicks; the other is that he’s reluctant to make big decisions, even when they’re the right ones. Perhaps the biggest example of that was in the last Manchester derby, when Atkinson didn’t award a penalty despite Ashley Young obviously fouling Sergio Aguero with a lunge inside the box.

Referee Martin Atkinson's stats this season

With Atkinson taking charge of Chelsea’s visit to Newcastle this weekend, that could prove to be a real point of frustration for the Blues. They desperately need a win to stand any chance of qualifying for the Champions League and only three players throughout the entire of the top flight have won more fouls than Eden Hazard this term, but it appears they’ll need a stonewall penalty for Atkinson to award one in the box this weekend.

Perhaps more worryingly for the Blues, both of their games with Atkinson officiating this season have ended in defeat, but the 47-year-old does provide one huge Chelsea boost heading into the visit to Tyneside; 41% of the Premier League games Atkinson has officiated this season have ended in away wins, which is actually the second-highest bias of any referee to oversee more than one top flight game in 2017/18.

At a ground where Chelsea haven’t won in the Premier League during their last four attempts, Atkinson’s away win bias might just balance out their bad luck.