VAR? What is it good for? That’s no doubt been the question in the heads of the players of FC Barcelona today. In fact, it was in the head of Gerard Pique for most of the match. A man so distracted from the 35th min he turned into Sergio Ramos. And not entirely in the bad way. Although is there actually a good way? But I digress…
El Gran Derbi de Catalunya, the return fixture of which will be played in Miami if the powers that be get their way, didn’t disappoint. The uniquely Catalan atmosphere was passionate and loud. Ernesto Valverde did what some of his harshest critics have wanted him to do, he rotated the team. In came Clément Lenglet, Arthur and Arturo Vidal for debuts in place of Samuel Umtiti, Rafinha and Ivan Rakitic. For 34 mins it looked like a nice balance in the team had been found with the new additions. Some fast, incisive attacking football led to Vidal setting up Messi to expertly finish for 1-0 on the 19th min.
Barça were in control until the moment of controversy struck in the 35th min. Initially, a free kick was given the way of Clément Lenglet for a tangle with Girona’s Pere Pons, then came a call for referee Jesus Gil Manzano to consult VAR. VAR appeared to show Lenglet’s forearm making contact with the face of Pere Pons. Manzano awarded a red card to Lenglet. I’ve seen this footage a few times now and I will dispute that there was intent from Lenglet, yet his arm was in what I would describe as an unnatural position, to me it felt harsh but it was understandable the referee took that course of action.
Valverde decided against making changes before halftime and Barça were punished accordingly. Sergi Busquets dropped back temporarily to partner Gerard Pique, neither could stop Cristhian Stuani, who was excellent all evening, exploiting the chaos in the Barça ranks to make it 1-1.
At halftime, Valverde brought on Samuel Umtiti for Ousmane Dembélé to try to reestablish control in defence. It wasn’t an immediate success. Girona came out firing, Stuani scoring again for 1-2 after some absolutely woeful defending by Pique. On to the aforementioned Gerard Pique, after the perceived injustice of the red card, which FCB are appealing incidentally, and his glaring error for the second Girona goal took it upon himself to readdress the balance, he scored the equalising goal with a powerful header on the 62nd min. I found myself watching Pique creep further and further forward as the half went on until he was basically playing as a striker. Sergio Ramos mode.
Girona were excellent, Barcelona were… fine. FCB had a number of chances to win the match, the highlight of them was what would have been a spectacular free-kick from Lionel Messi around 30 yards out which clipped the woodwork. On reflection, it wouldn’t have been fair, Girona were well worth a point. It was a hard-fought, competitive derby, a point gained rather than points lost.
It’s going to be a tough week of fixtures, away at Leganes and then home to Athletic Bilbao. Let’s hope Ernesto Valverde can banish the chaotic tendencies of the derbi.