FC Barcelona teamed up with referee Gonzalez Gonzalez to steal three points at home against visiting Sevilla in today’s last La Liga game of the day.
What seemed like a competitive match under a downpour and with political banners and chanting at the Camp Nou, turned into a farce thanks to a return to the scandalously favorable officiating for the Cules that we all know about. In a match that showed Sevilla was well prepared for the encounter, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were left off the score sheet and frankly out of most of the dangerous plays of the contest.
It took 23 minutes for the hosts to find the net and it was only thanks to a school-boy-silly give away from Sevilla defender Escudero whose trap simply placed the ball gently into the path of Barcelona’s Alcacer who slotted home from close range under the sprawled body of Soria.
From that moment on, given the weather, the steadfast competition the hosts were enduring, and the difficulty of running on a large, wet field, Barcelona resorted to their long-known stratagem of fouling their opponents immediately upon the change of possession—that is the moment Barca loses the ball their opponents are fouled. Yet, the illegal tactic, which ensures that the Cules’ customary long bouts of possession are extended, was barely working as Sevilla were no push over. In fact, the possession at match’s end was at 50%-50%. But the effect of the allowed tactic on the match was 100% favorable to the hosts.
From the 23:55 minute straight through to the 93:30 Barcelona committed thirteen tactical fouls (one every 5:36 minutes) and was called for three. As we have long known the effect of a called foul can be similar to an uncalled one as the whistled sanction accomplishes the objective of stopping the opposition and re-positioning the defense. The obvious question was: when would the referee see the repeated fouls, by several players on a single team, at the same strategic points in time, as an illegal tactic, and actually call Barcelona for it? Answer: never!
Sevilla continued gamely and, frankly, without much complaining, and obtained the equalizer at the 59th minute via a great header by Pizzaro who marked Messi out of the match with little fouling if with physical play and a lot of anticipatory interceptions. The midfielder simply kept track of Messi the whole game and did not allow the easy put-aways from close in that the diminutive Argentine so often gets.
Meanwhile, Barca soon figured it was easier to foul than to play under the match’s conditions, so Umtiti committed the first tactical foul after Barca’s opening score, and then two more after Pizzaro’s goal, before committing the key one at the 65th minute that led to a both a ridiculous no call and a continuation of play, that Sevilla could not believe, and that ultimately resulted in Alcacer’s second goal on the continuation counter.
The game became a transparent sham when in a period of less than three minutes, beginning at about the 82:35 mark, a foul on Messi necessitated a stoppage of time to ensure he was ok even though the striker was simply sitting on the pitch pulling his socks up. A minute later, play resume. But a minute after that, when Rakitic came down hard in the Sevilla box, and despite the fact that the contact was judged (correctly) not to have been a foul, Pique took it upon himself to knock down Nolito, who had possession by the sideline. When the ref whistled the foul Pique then complained he had only committed the runover to ensure his teammate would be tended to. The ref of course obliged and another minute went off the clock.
But even that was not enough. To ensure the match would not progress, given the number of previous interruptions would likely lead to at least 3-5 minutes of added time, at the 88:35 mark, Javier Mascherano’s services were desperately needed. Rakitic became the anointed one being replaced and managed to waltz off, literally hopping and floating and turning 360-degrees while clapping his hands (it must have been that his severe injury of just five minutes ago, was by then, fully healed) to be replaced no sooner than the 89:40 mark.
But with a single goal lead, and four minutes added, the momentum killing tactical fouls had to keep coming, and they did until there were only seconds left in the match. By game’s end, aside from Umtiti’s four and Iniesta’s one, Busquets had committed four, Rakitic two, Alba one, and Messi the last one, committed as much to stop a counter as to get even with Pizzaro for his job well done. And guess what, Messi’s foul earned his team their first and only yellow card of the match. A truly meaningful and timely officiating concession, thirty-seconds before the final whistle.