Webb picked in effort to keep controversy at bay


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The World Cup final referee Howard Webb is set 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 (right), 39, is expected to be confirmed by Mike Riley, the general manager of the referees' organisation, this afternoon 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.

Sir Alex Ferguson has also cranked up the pressure following United's 1-0 defeat to Arsenal by suggesting that Chelsea had been the beneficiary of some "great decisions" in their 2-1 win over Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, which puts them within three points of United. The appointment to Sunday's game of Webb – heavily criticised by Liverpool for his performance in their FA Cup third-round defeat to United in January – will not be without controversy. However, the Professional Game Match Officials (PGMOL) body, which administers and selects referees, is aware that the game needs to pass off without a major talking point around the referee and has chosen the man regarded as the best in the English game.

Having managed to steer clear of controversy through the large part of his domestic career, Webb found himself in the thick of it in January after United's 1-0 win over Liverpool in the FA Cup at Old Trafford when he gave United a penalty early in the game and later dismissed Steven Gerrard. The PGMOL especially needs a solid performance from Webb on Sunday after referee Andre Marriner and his assistant Mike Cairns failed to spot that Lampard's goal for Chelsea against Spurs was not over the line and that Salomon Kalou's goal was offside.

There was more bad news on Sunday when Ferguson was critical of the referee Chris Foy for his failure to give United a penalty in the defeat to Arsenal. Martin Atkinson, who will be the FA Cup final referee later this month, was regarded as unsuitable for Sunday's game after Ferguson's outspoken attack on him following United's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea on 1 March.