Liverpool take on Chelsea at Wembley in the FA Cup final on Saturday and the man chosen to be referee is hoping to avoid the limelight, having incurred the wrath of Klopp earlier this season.
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Liverpool have done all they can to keep the Premier League title race alive as their search for an unprecedented fourfold enters the final stages.
Having already won the Carabao Cup, the Reds still have the chance to become the first English team in history to win all four major titles. In the league title race, Jurgen Klopp’s side remain the underdogs, after Manchester City beat Newcastle and Wolves in back-to-back games.
This pair of wins means that for the last two games, City hold a three-point advantage, while possessing a better goal difference. Liverpool’s fate in the Premier League is now out of their hands and they will need a favor from West Ham or Aston Villa if they are to win a second title in three years.
In the FA Cup and Champions League, however, the Merseysiders control their own destiny with two massive finals that will decide how their season will be shaped in years to come. Their quest for a seventh European Cup sees them face Real Madrid at the end of the month, but first it is the small matter of a Wembley FA Cup final against Chelsea.
The Reds have already overcome Thomas Tuchel’s accusations at home football, winning the EFL Cup in February after a penalty shootout. And it promises to be another close affair with Klopp looking to lift the trophy for the first time in his tenure at Anfield.
After being unable to part ways in their last cup final encounter, Saturday’s clash could be one that comes down to a split decision or two, with all eyes on the man in charge of keeping order. Craig Pawson has been appointed referee for the Wembley final and is hoping to stay out of the spotlight, having left Klopp furious earlier this season.
Liverpool’s record in games officiated by Pawson is remarkably solid – having lost just six of the 31 games the 43-year-old has officiated. However, the most recent of those defeats had Klopp jumping in rage after he felt a series of controversial decisions went against him.
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After the 3-2 loss at West Ham in November – Liverpool’s first of the season – Klopp took aim at Pawson and suggested he had made a number of wrong decisions. Most notable was not disallowing the host’s opening goal and deciding that Aaron Cresswell’s challenge against Jordan Henderson was not worthy of a direct red card.
In a thorny post-match interview, he said: “I think it’s a clear foul on Alisson, Ogbonna’s arm is there. The referee made it easy for himself and said ‘it’ is what the VAR says”. They said not clear and obvious – I don’t know why – what is really strange, it’s not the man scoring, it’s the blocking of the goalkeeper.
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“People will say I’m looking for excuses, I’m not. I accept that we’re not too good at losing football games. Today we lost it, it’s not nice but I accept that. But when it comes to situations in a game, you just need normal decisions from a referee. He didn’t do that.
“The way I saw it (Cresswell’s tackle on Henderson) it was a clear red card. No discussion possible. You can’t walk into a challenge like that. But we can’t make those decisions obviously and I didn’t know what the ref would say now, but in the game he looked confident that his decisions were correct It all depends on the ref.
Pawson is hoping for a relatively uncontroversial afternoon under the arch at Wembley – and if he doesn’t, Klopp and Tuchel will be sure to give his performance an honest assessment.