Sunday, at the Estadio El Madrigal, visiting FC Barcelona drew 2-2 with hosts Villarreal, thanks to two game-changing calls by referee Jose Sanchez, who awarded the visitors a non-existent penalty at the 39th minute and declined to call a double hand ball, stopping a Villarreal breakaway, at the 22nd minute, by the already carded Gerard Pique. The draw maintains Barcelona atop the La Liga standings, nine points clear of second place Atletico Madrid who lost yesterday.
The called penalty was actually a diving sprawling save by Villarreal keeper, Sergio Asenjo, against an on-rushing Neymar, who got up after the contact without appealing for anything, a giveaway that there was nothing to appeal. Neymar converted for the 2-0 lead, after Ivan Rakitic’s 20th minute blast off a melee in the host’s box had opened the scoring.
Why does the best team in the world keep getting this exorbitant officiating largess?
At the 22nd minute, just two minutes after Barcelona opened the scoring, Roberto Soldado, Villarreal’s key striker, had but to get by Pique to earn a one-on-one with Barca keeper Claudio Bravo. But the defender went down skillfully to trap the ball with a slide that succeeded in blocking the striker’s advance. Only the defender ended prone while Soldado was upright and about to get around Pique. So, of course, the defenseman did what he seems to get away with in every single game. He handled the ball. This time, he kept the ball close to his body by stopping its progress with his arm once and then cuddled it to his body with his arm again, as he began to get up.
Certainly one or the other blatant hand ball would have been noticed by either the linesman or the ref. But if so, neither called it. Speak about a game changer. A tying goal right after an opponent opens the score is the number one way of stopping any progression of momentum. Similarly, imagine if Pique had been sent off, as well he should have with a double, purposeful handling of the ball. With Barcelona playing away and a man down what different game this would have been.
But there it went, another blatantly illegal intervention by Barcelona that went unsanctioned.
In a game with 26 called fouls and 12 yellow cards (55% of all players were carded), surprise, surprise, Barcelona was called for nine fouls and four cards, and Villarreal, playing at home, had 17 fouls and eight cards. Once again, a Barcelona opponent was called for twice as many infractions as the Catalans. It would be interesting to find out just how often that has happened historically, in any season, consistently through in home and away games, with any team, in any professional football league.
By the way, Villarreal coach, Marcelino Garcia, could not help but complain bitterly about the no-call on Pique, so, of course, he was summarily sent to a box high above the action for the remainder of the match. Make that nine cards to the hosts.
Somehow, despite the two-front, uphill battle, the hosts managed to score at the 57th minute, on a pretty play capped by Cedric Bakambu’s rebound put away off a Bravo save. Then, at the 63rd minute an errant cross found Jeremy Mathieu’s left arm and bounced off of it and into the Barca nets for an own goal. Maybe the gods felt enough was enough.
This should have been a victory for the Yellow Submarine who suffered a 68-32% possession deficit but played their superior opponents even for most of the match, and bested them for stretches.