Lionel Messi and his fellow Barcelona players have shrugged off claims they were favoured by the referee in Tuesday’s 2-0 Champions League last 16 first-leg win at Manchester City, saying they also suffered some poor decisions and anyway had been much the better side over the 90 minutes.
The game was scoreless early in the second half when City’s Martin Demichelis was sent off by referee Jonas Eriksson for a professional foul on Lionel Messi, who picked himself up to convert the penalty.
Home coach Manuel Pellegrini was scathing in his criticism of that decision, saying the foul had been outside the box, and that the Swedish official “was not impartial” and had spent the night trying to make up for wronging Barca in a previous game.
Messi himself spoke with reporters in the mixed zone after the game but stuck to a diplomatic line. “There is always talk about referees,” Messi said. “There is always something to say.”
Barca’s other goalscorer Dani Alves was more forthright with his comments on Canal Plus, saying Barca had deserved to win the game, and suggesting beaten teams often resorted to blaming the referee.
“We were able to create a lot of play, and the team won who created the most chances today,” Alves said. “The referee is there to decide. We have enough work to do ourselves, making sure we play well. It is curious that there is always talk about referees whenever Barca win.”
Andres Iniesta, whose pass split the City defence and sent Messi clean through, told Television Espanola that for him it had been a clear penalty and red card for Demichelis.
“On the pitch, the penalty was clear,” Iniesta said. “They knocked over Leo and he was the last defender. I could see it clearly.”
Cesc Fabregas told Marca that Barca had deserved to win, and pointed out that the goal he set up for Gerard Pique at 1-0 had been incorrectly ruled offside by the officials.
“We can all complain about something, but one team was superior to the other,” Fabregas said. “We could also complain about Pique’s goal.”
The consensus in the Spanish and Catalan media Wednesday morning was that former Malaga defender Demichelis had deserved to be sent off, although online polls run by both AS and Marca were almost evenly split on the matter.
Marca went with a "King Leo I of England" headline over a piece saying the four-time Ballon d’Or winner had finally conquered England, after having been held scoreless in eight previous visits to play at the grounds of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Meanwhile, Mundo Deportivo claimed UEFA could punish Pellegrini for his outburst, saying Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger previously received fines and bans for similar statements, and admitting the referee had a bad night -- but saying he had actually favoured City by not giving first-half penalty for a Gael Clichy handball and then ruling out a legitimate goal by Pique.