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Michael Oliver referees, Craig Pawson on VAR

Michael Oliver will take charge of Manchester United in their first away match of the season against Tottenham Hotspur, with Craig Pawson on VAR.

It is safe to say that neither official would rank highly among Red Devils’ fans’ favourites, with plenty of controversy surrounding both officials in recent times.

Oliver, a self-confessed Newcastle United fan, took charge of some crucial Man United fixtures towards the back end of last season, including one against Everton, right when the two Uniteds were neck-and-neck for an all-important Champions League spot.

Erik ten Hag’s team came out on top on that April afternoon, but that is not how it usually pans out when Oliver referees United.

In the 42 matches Michael Oliver has officiated them, United have won just 17 times, giving them a record of just 40.4%.

Man United are one of five teams the Geordie has shown more than seventy yellow cards to, despite refereeing them on fewer occasions than seven other clubs.

But if there is one man in black who was a huge lightning rod for criticism from United fans last season (Anthony Taylor aside), it was Craig Pawson.

In October 2022, he turned down a clear penalty shout for a foul on Jadon Sancho, before denying a perfectly legitimate goal from Cristiano Ronaldo against Newcastle before booking the player for his protests.

The incident led to a fine for Manchester United, despite the FA then demoting Pawson to the Championship the following weekend – a sure sign that a protestations were justified.

An even more controversial decision came later in the season against Crystal Palace, when Casemiro was sent off by Craig Pawson for being adjudged to have ‘throttled’ an opponent during a scuffle.

No punishment was issued for Jordan Ayew for the exact same offence, while Jeffrey Schlupp – who had started the melee with a violent push on Antony that sent him flying into the hoardings and injuring the Brazilian – saw only a yellow card.

Between Michael Oliver and Craig Pawson, Manchester United could be forgiven for wondering if the Premier League had set up a nightmare officiating team for them in direct response to the controversy surrounding the denied penalty shout against Andre Onana on Monday.

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