This was supposed to be a game where the best of Spanish domestic football was on show, but it failed to live up to the hype. Barca with Neymar and Leo Messi up front for the first time was expected to destroy Atletico Madrid. In the end they would conjure up just four shots and only one on target as Atleti, at least defensively, were excellent. But, as the final whistle went, the star of the show was neither Cule nor Rojiblanco but a man in blue – the ref.
David Fernandez Borbalan is being cursed across Madrid and Barcelona. For Atleti fans he failed to let the play flow and allowed zero contact, which hindered the game and prevented it from getting out of second gear. He also sent off two of their players. Filipe Luis was dismissed for an incident that the linesman saw 70 metres away and Arda Turan from the bench.
It is believed to be for dissent, something that Simeone said was strange for a very simple reason: “Arda can’t speak Spanish.” But Arda could face some very serious trouble because he appeared to make a gun gesture with his left hand and pointed it at the referee as he was pushed off the pitch.
Barca fans, meanwhile, feel that he was too light with comparisons to Howard Webb suggested. The Englishman has become a symbol of anything that goes in Spain after he failed to send off Nigel de Jong for his flying foot on Xabi Alonso in the World Cup Final. Every time Messi, Neymar or any other Barca player touched the ball, tackles flew in and Barca went to the ref. Sometimes they got a free-kick, other times it was brushed off. Gabi got a yellow card for dissent but his eight crunching tackles were waved off.
The incident that best sums up the official’s night was a tackle on Dani Alves. The push got a yellow card for Diego Costa, which was a little too much but a second later and in front of the official, Diego Godin stamped his foot into the back of Alves and it went unseen and unpunished.
For Godin it was the second time in a week that he was caught doing something unsporting against Barca and he is sure to get a hostile reception when he returns. The late penalty awarded was seen as soft by almost all and Colchoneros believe that Sergio Busquets, for the second time in a week, avoided a second yellow. However, Simeone refused to say anything negative, commenting only that the officials were human and capable of mistake, and Tata Martino took a similar stance.
It was a poor affair. The Camp Nou was far from full, the kick-off time was way too late and the football on show did very little to sell Javier Tebas’ chant of the ‘The League that moves the world’.
Not for the first time and definitely not for the last, the man in the middle took centre stage. Once more the standard of refereeing is being debated in Spain, whilst the football on the pitch is forgotten.