Referees cast Webb as their leading man for title tussle at Old Trafford
The World Cup final referee Howard Webb is to be announced today as the man in charge of Manchester United's pivotal Premier League game against Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday -- with the league and referees' bodies desperate for a solid performance from the officials.
The appointment of Webb (39) is expected to be confirmed by Mike Riley, the general manager of the referees' organisation, after a bad weekend for Premier League officials in which several wrong decisions -- most notably Frank Lampard's "ghost goal" against Tottenham -- have put them under scrutiny like never before.
Alex Ferguson has also cranked up the pressure following his team's 1-0 defeat to Arsenal by suggesting Chelsea had been the beneficiary of some "great decisions" in their controversial 2-1 win over Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, putting them within three points of United.
The appointment to Sunday's game of Webb is intriguing, as he was heavily criticised by Liverpool for his performance in their FA Cup third-round defeat to United in January.
Having managed to steer clear of controversy through the large part of his domestic career, Webb found himself in the thick of it after United's 1-0 win over Liverpool in the cup at Old Trafford. Webb gave United a penalty early in the game for Daniel Agger's challenge on Dimitar Berbatov and later dismissed Steven Gerrard.
In the subsequent criticism from Liverpool, Ryan Babel was fined £10,000 by the English FA for posting a photoshopped picture of Webb in a United shirt on his Twitter page.
Webb has taken charge of Chelsea twice already in the league this season.
He refereed in their defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in November and their home victory over Wigan last month. Martin Atkinson was regarded as unsuitable for Sunday's game after Ferguson's outspoken attack on him following United's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in March.
Ferguson was banned from the touchline for five games for questioning his integrity. (© Independent News Service)