It wouldn't be a Champions League knockout stage without someone claiming a referee favored Barcelona and this season, Manuel Pellegrini beat Jose Mourinho to the punch. The Manchester City manager went on an uncharacteristic rant after his side lost 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie against Barca. The match was scoreless until Martin Demichelis was sent off for a challenge from behind on Lionel Messi at the edge of the box in the 53rd minute and Pellegrini thinks referee Jonas Eriksson was doing his opponents favors at the Etihad.
Said Pellegrini (via Sky Sports):
"I think in the whole match we didn't have a referee with impartiality to both teams.
"He decided the game. He decided the game because it was a foul by (Sergio) Busquets on Navas. The referee was three metres away and he didn't blow the whistle and after that the foul from Demichelis is outside the box, it's not a penalty.
"Important mistakes against a great team like Barcelona make it difficult to win." [...]
He added: "I think it is a mistake to nominate a referee that has had problems with Barcelona.
"Maybe he made mistakes in Milan. To have the same the referee here, I repeat, is a mistake."
Pellegrini was referring to a scoreless draw in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals between Milan and Barca two seasons ago in which Eriksson drew criticism for twice ignoring Barcelona's penalty shouts. They went on to win the second leg 3-1 before losing to eventual champions Chelsea in the semifinals.
Since Demichelis' sliding challenge on Messi started outside the box but finished inside, the still images sparked debate over whether it should've been a penalty. At full speed, it appeared to be and the challenge itself was always going to be a red card, so it's hard to say the referee was settling old debts. Unless, of course, you were the one on the losing end of the match.
Another explanation, of course, is that Jose Mourinho, who bemoaned his own experience playing with 10 men in UEFA competitions (particularly against Barcelona) at the start of the season, has gotten bored with his mind games and has now moved up to mind control. Anyway, Messi and Yaya Toure wish we could all just get along...
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