Hardly a week to remember. While Barcelona did beat Valencia to progress to the Copa del Rey final, they also lost to Osasuna, and coupled with Real Madrid’s controversial win over Levante, you can safely say that Barcelona will not win the 2011/12 La Liga title. That honour (barring an implosion of epic proportions) will be Jose Mourinho’s, thus cementing his legacy as an exceptional club manager. Of course the Blaugrana could still overshadow that achievement by winning or at least progressing further in the UEFA Champions League (compared to Real). After all, if a team is ten points clear of their nearest rivals, the fans will start to think about European glory, so it’s up to Mourinho to deliver.
However, he knows that Barcelona are still a contender, and in some ways, he knows that they are still capable of dishing out another Manita if he gets his tactics wrong. It has become increasingly evident that Jose may be a superb tactician, but against Barcelona, he freezes, and often gets it wrong. In fact, the majority of the time he is outclassed. Whatever happens in the rest of the league season, we only need to see the "old" Barcelona for nine more matches this season. In fact, given the two-legged format in the UCL, around six games is a more accurate statement.
Pep Guardiola makes a habit of never criticising referees in public, and he tries to enforce the same rules on his players. However, while the club may live and die by this rule, the fans do not have to. So, in summary, the inferior quality of La Liga refereeing reared its ugly head this weekend, with possibly title-clinching consequences. First off, in Barcelona’s match with Osasuna, Alexis Sanchez had three goals disallowed for offside. I know how quick the Chilean is, it must be difficult to keep up with his lightening quick runs, but this was just diabolical.
The first incident was clearly ONSIDE, while the second was also ONSIDE. The third was an extremely close decision, and ultimately hinges upon whether Sergi Roberto got a touch on the cross. Personally, I do not think he did from the real-time replay, while it took countless slow-motion replays to convince me that he might have got a touch. So, it puzzles me that the linesman could make a instantaneous decision based on one viewing of the cross, especially when he had around two or three players to follow.
Could it be that the assistant referees are taking the easy way out by raising their flags? Usually Alexis is so far removed from any other defender when he receives the ball, you think he must have been offside. Apparently, that is more feasible than a well-timed pass (from the best passing side in the world) and a well-timed run from a world-class player...
But then we had the Real Madrid referees who failed to spot a blatant kick from Sergio Ramos.
Sergio Ramos may not have the reputation of say Pepe, but his red card count is the highest in Real Madrid history. The 100+ year history of Real Madrid. Did I mention he has only been there for seven years, and that he has received more red cards than Fernando Hierro who played in around 600 games for Madrid? Yeah, that’s the same Ramos who didn’t receive a red card for the violent conduct displayed above.
More depressingly, Real Madrid have been awarded 11 penalties in the league, this season alone accounting for over a FIFTH of the penalties awarded in La Liga. Then, even though they have Pepe and Sergio Ramos in central defense, they have not conceded a single one. This is probably the result of solid defensive play, but to be 11-0 with penalties awarded in your matches is awfully suspicious, or at least incredibly unusual. I don’t quite know how many penalties Barcelona have been awarded in the same timeframe, but my guess would be around four or five, far less than 11 anyway. I don’t think there is any "conspiracy" in favour of Real Madrid, but clearly, there is no bias towards Barcelona either, no matter how much people claim there is.
Oh Guaje, we miss you. Ironically, I was very much unattached to David Villa prior to his leg break what with his horrendous run of form and what not, but now, I would give nigh on anything to have him back. With Messi unable to sustain his super-human goal-scoring exploits for the time being at least, there is only one or two players likely to score in a Barcelona match: the two summer signings Alexis and Cesc Fabregas. Aside from that, Pedro has not stayed injury-free for long enough, while the two young wingers Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello simply cannot be expected to score every match.
With Villa out, and Pedro often at 50-60% fitness, the Blaugrana are missing out on around 30 goals over the course of the season. Factor in the loss of Bojan, and that figure would increase to 40ish goals, or around one per match. Who wouldn’t struggle in that situation?