These days, it’s increasingly hard to find fair and consistent refereeing in England’s top flight. But if Liverpool fans were to compile a list of referees they’d prefer to avoid in big games, Martin Atkinson would likely be near the top.
So naturally it is Atkinson who will be making the big calls in the center of the park when England’s two biggest sides and two fiercest rivals take the pitch on Saturday. This will be Atkinson’s fourth time at the center of England’s top match, and Liverpool have yet to earn a single point from any of the previous three.
Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard was fairly blunt about his feelings on Atkinson in his biography, admitting that he “could not stand” the Bradford ref. I’m sure that has nothing to do with Atkinson sending Gerrard off in his last Liverpool-United derby a mere 38 seconds after his introduction. Nope, nothing at all.
The Reds had mixed results last season with Atkinson as the head referee. He was on hand when Liverpool saw off Middlesbrough 3-0 on the final day of last season to secure fourth place, as well as the 2-1 victory over eventual champs Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. On the flip side of the coin, he also oversaw Liverpool’s semifinal exit to Southampton in the League Cup, drawing criticism from Klopp for failing to call a penalty for the Reds when Shane Long appeared to handle the ball inside the box.
As if it were not obvious enough already, Liverpool will have to be especially sharp in order to take the game out of Atkinson’s hands.