Referees like to plan for their games, especially the big ones. Asthis is the first time that Wiley has been appointed to referee aLeague encounter between the two North West giants since December 2002,he will relish the challenge.
He will, of course, be aware of any mind games Manchester Unitedboss Sir Alex Ferguson will be trying often asking for a strongreferee in meetings between the big four.
Facing a tough test: Wiley
In 2003, after Wiley had given Chelsea a penalty at Stamford Bridge,Ferguson said: 'It's a shame we didn't get a top referee', clearlyquestioning Wiley's suitability as United lost 1-0. Wiley wasn'taffected then and he won't be now.
This fixture has increased in intensity, with three red cards in thelast four League meetings handled by different referees. Thosedismissals have not been for wild tackles: Vidic two cautions,Mascherano a hissy fit and Scholes a leading arm on Xavi Alonso.
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Generally, the players have afforded each other a high degree ofrespect but that mood could be different today in the first meetingsince 'Rafa's Rant' in January when he criticised today's hosts.
So why the quandary? Wiley's problem is which Liverpool turns up.Will it be the one which demolished Real Madrid, the same one that beatUnited 2-1 last September, their first League win over Ferguson'smen in four seasons?
Or will it be the Liverpool which submitted 2-0 to strugglingMiddlesbrough in a match where only seven free kicks were awarded —hardly a team scrapping to stay in the Premier League title race.
United are superb in preparation and knowledge; whether it is usingan iPod to help a keeper in a penalty shootout or knowing that a teamdoes not need permission to change their grey kit at half-time.
Benitez could have learned something from studying United at TheDell in 1996, a game I refereed. Trailing 3-0 to Southampton, Fergusonchanged strips and 'won' the second half 1-0 wearing blue and white.The grey kit was never seen again and psychologically the defeat and,more importantly, the performance was put down to poor visibility ofthe grey shirts.
In that recent Boro defeat, Liverpool wore grey, rolled over and out of the title race. Could you see Benitez pulling off Fergie's stunt/masterstroke and changing kit?
No, and nor can I. Fergie is the master and Benitez is unwilling to be his apprentice preferring to do things his unpredictable way.
So Wiley, the Premier League's most consistent ref, may have to go into this without a clear game plan and respond to whatever challenges the match throws up. In doing so he will be emulating the attitude of superb Swedish referee Anders Frisk whose preparation was simple expect the unexpected.
The referee's clinicThe Cristiano Ronaldo goal which sealed United's win over Inter inmidweek and ensured passage into the quarter-finals of the UEFAChampions League demonstrated why the new interpretation of the offsidelaw can be a good thing.
As the ball was crossed, Dimitar Berbatov was in an offside positionand with the ball moving in his direction would have been flagged a fewseasons ago. However, the assistant correctly waited, Ronaldo got tothe ball first and headed a goal. Proof the new interpretation canenhance the game IF applied correctly.
ls Ferguson above the law? Managers have been in the news for their comments about referees and Steve Tanner, today's fourth official, will be trying to ensure Ferguson and Benitez afford each other respect as well as behave correctly towards Alan Wiley. I refereed United 30 times at Old Trafford and can't imagine a scenario when I'dask Ferguson to leave the dugout. Which begs the question, does healways behave in accordance with law or is he above it in the eyes ofthe ref when at Old Trafford?
Watch out for.Cristiano Ronaldo's behaviour today. Cautioned in two of his last three domestic games for simulation, one correct and one not, the United star was full of tricks in a wonderful performance on Wednesday. Ferguson warned players not to 'showboat' but I enjoyed Ronaldo's display and I'm hoping for more of the same today with no diving.