Instead of steering away from trouble, those placing Howard Webb as the referee in the upcoming Manchester United and Liverpool match at Old Trafford walked right into it.
If there’s one referee that has been historically (not on purpose, we’re quite sure) kind and gentle with the Red Devils it’s been Webb. Putting him in charge of this specific fixture, which in an FA Cup match on January 2011 was, how shall we put this, not one of his finest performances, is just asking for criticism in something that is already quite a heated rivalry.
Kenny Dalglish was making his return as Liverpool manager for the first time in that match, as Webb bought a Dimitar Berbatov dive despite not getting a clear view of the event, giving United a 1-0 lead. Shortly afterwards, he sent off Steven Gerrard for a two-footed challenge, although the only man who actually agreed with Webb (but was probably stunned when he drew out the red card anyway) was Alex Ferguson, to everyone’s surprise.
After that match Ryan Babel tweeted the famous picture of Webb in a Manchester United shirt, which drew viral success and a fine to Ryan Babel.
It wasn’t the first time Webb made an obvious mistake in favor of United. Back in 2009, he made a huge error in favor of that team in a match against Tottenham, award the Red Devils a penalty although replays clearly showed that Heurelho Gomes, Spurs’ keeper at the time, touched the ball and not Michael Carrick’s legs. Webb was more than 30 meters away from the incident, sparking a United comeback from 0-2 down to a famous 5-2 win.
Nearly a year ago Manchester United had another memorable comeback, this time at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. Chelsea led 3-0 but United, courtesy of two penalty kicks, one of them softer than the softest pillow, managed to claw back to 3-3. This season (not Webb) United beat Liverpool in Anfield 2-1, enjoying another dubious penalty decision, as Antonio Valencia was barely touched, if at all, resulting in the winning goal for the visitors.
Wise choice? Webb is having a good season, despite everything. He is one of the premier English referees at the moment, so he will be getting big matches accordingly. The problem is this specific fixture, with the history of it, and Webb’s connection to it. Don’t be surprised if you’ll hear about it again after this weekend.