Barcelona managed to filch a point in Sunday’s Clasico by once again getting penalized for many fewer fouls than they committed, officially getting eight to Real Madrid’s twenty. Anyone watching the match could attest to a much more even spread of infractions, and if anything, that Barcelona was the major culprit.
Referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez gave Madrid five yellows and Barca three and a red for a Sergi Roberto punch in the face to Marcelo, but not for the Jordi Alba neck grab of Luka Modric, or Messi’s intentional hand ball, or his vicious foul on Ramos, or the Luis Suarez blatant kick of Raphael Varane that led directly to Barca’s second goal.
“It was a bit of a foul against Varane,” Suarez confessed in post-match interviews. “He controlled the ball and then I put his foot out of place.” Kicked it so hard out of place that the defender crumbled to the ground, he must have meant to say.
The match ended 2-2 with Suarez opening the score at the tenth minute, Cristiano Ronaldo tying the score at the fourteenth, before being fouled-and-injured out of the match, Lionel Messi pulling Barca ahead at the fifty-second, and Gareth Bale evening the match for good at the seventy-second.
Yet, the story of the match was the incomprehensible return to what seemed to have ended a season ago, Barcelona getting called on average for half as many fouls as any of their opponents throughout all domestic competitions. It was during the 2014-15 Champions League season when the European media finally caught on to Barca’s strategy during continental play, and that coverage led to a 2015-16 and 2016-17 La Liga and Copa del Rey seasons that seemed to even out the calls.
But the tactics resurfaced this year. To-wit: Barcelona fouls upon their loss of possession and complains to the ref about every important call that goes against them. The complaints include surrounding the referee, after a foul is awarded in favor of an opponent, long enough to ensure Barca’s defense gets back in place for the ensuing free kick. The two-part tactic has the dual objective of safeguarding longer bouts of possession than tiki-taka already affords and further victimized their opponents by never allowing them to build any rhythm. With some referees the encircling tactic also results in the official thinking twice about his next call against Barca less the Catalan team surround him to stop play and challenge every call thereafter.
In Sunday’s match, Papa’s count had Barca committing 21 fouls and Madrid 15, a far cry from the official tally. But this is a straight accounting of the infractions not of their level of severity or the significance or impact of whether the foul was called.
Fifteen seconds into the match Ivan Rakitic fouled Marcelo harshly and was not even called for the egregious, injurious act. At the 7:15 mark, Messi fouled Marcelo by hitting him with both arms on the back and simultaneously committed a hand ball as he guided the ball away from the defender with his outstretched hand. The foul was called but the automatic yellow for a purposeful hand ball was not. At the 14:01 mark, Pique fouled Ronaldo, the defender catching CR7 with his cleats on the ankle in an alleged try to stop a goal. Only the leg arrived late, missed the ball, and caught the player fully, and no call was made. Ronaldo had to leave the game.
At the 30:56 mark, Jordi Alba and Modric got into an argument and the Barca player grabbed the Madrid player by the neck. This unsportsmanlike act was clearly a violent act and should have resulted in an automatic red card, but instead nothing was called!
At the 36:00 mark, Rakitic knocked Varane to the ground away from the action, a clear foul—yellow or red, at ref’s discretion, but an offense that usually gets a card as per FIFA rules—yet, despite the fact that we clearly see the ref gesticulate, admonishing Rakitic, who puts his arms out as if pleading innocence, no call was made.
At the 44:05 mark, Ramos and Suarez got into a shoving match argument and both received yellows. Subsequently, Messi zeroed in on Ramos at the sideline and ran twenty yards at full steam right at him to foul him viciously. Certainly a red card foul, but only a yellow was given. By then, Rakitic, Alba, and Messi should have been sent off on at least double yellows. But it was at the 46:59, in first half stoppage time, that Sergi’s punch, knocking Marcelo down, garnered the game’s only red.
During the half-time break, the announcers of the game Papa watched commented that in the previous Clasicos, dating back to 2009, there have been 23 red cards awarded and 14 of them have been given to Real Madrid (61%), eight of them at the Camp Nou. Telling facts, those.
As the players assembled in the tunnel to enter the pitch for the second half, the broadcast clearly showed that Pique whispered something to Nacho to which the Madrid player took offense. The Catalan kept walking away having succeeded at bating the younger Madrid defender.
On the first play of the second half, at the 45:50 mark, Benzema attempted a give and go with Bale but was held by Pique and the play disintegrated. No call was made on what was a clear yellow card offense. By then Pique should have been out of the game too.
As the second half progressed, and things got rougher, Casemiro and Bale committed several fouls which together with their first half fouls should also have made them clear candidates for a red, but they remained on the pitch with lesser sanctions imposed.
At the 75:30 mark, Alba tripped Marcelo in the Barca box, a clear penalty which all but the ref witnessed. The Camp Nou itself skipped a beat as the crowd went silent with dread. But, there was no call made. By then, half of Barca’s team should have “fouled out” and the Alba penalty should have given the visitors the lead.
The game continued to be fractious until the end. Though Barca could claim they remained unbeaten, any non-partisan observer would have noted that they should have lost the match, by default, owing to too few players on the pitch, long before the final whistle blew.
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