If there were fears that there wouldn’t be storylines heading into the second leg of Barcelona’s Champions League tie with Arsenal, those fears have been silenced. The two cold-hearted goals from Lionel Messi were quite straightforward: The first goal of the game came on the counterattack and the second came on a penalty kick -- few could deny that it was a fair call when Mathieu Flamini chopped down Messi in the box.
The majority of the controversy played out after the match. Anyone who watched it may recall a conflict between Olivier Giroud and Jordi Alba where the two met face-to-face after the Frenchman took exception to the Catalan's reaction to the his hand making contact with the left-back.
Alba made a slight pushing motion with his head, but it’s not clear if he made contact with Giroud. Nevertheless, Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir found the incident to be nothing more than a stand-alone disagreement and didn’t feel the need to punish either player.
While no yellow card was issued to Alba during the match, some media outlets felt otherwise. Therefore, the morning after the encounter, Jordi Alba took to Instagram to voice his displeasure with reports that he had received a yellow card in the match. The Spaniard’s irritation with the media comes just a few weeks after fellow defender Dani Alves directed profane language at the press.
This disconnect between Barcelona players and the media is nothing new, but one wonders if there will be a tipping point. Gerard Pique is another player who has voiced his distrust of the press this season, and it is no secret that Messi is not a fan of speaking to journalists.
In the world of social media, it is easier for players to combat the press on their own private accounts, but that only feeds the machine. The players cannot refuse to speak to the media altogether, as that is the medium for which fans consume so much of their favorite teams. The pundits may criticize and frustrate, but their very existence is what proves to make Barcelona so popular in the first place. Cules hate the Madrid-biased papers, but their venomous negativity has helped to solidify the rivalry between both clubs. Without the naysayers, there is no narrative.
Speaking of the narrative, Arsenal's Arsene Wenger is no stranger to shaping a narrative in the press to both motivate his team and make headlines. He has done his part to use a few select words to stir the pot before the return leg at the Camp Nou.
Wenger is apparently attempting to spur his own team on by saying that Barcelona is “95 percent” likely to qualify for the next round. The Frenchman may even be praising Barcelona outright, thought that isn’t likely his only motive. If that was indeed honest praise, it ended there.
Wenger did not sugarcoat his distaste for Barcelona’s players and their reactions after feeling that were being fouled. This has always been a polarizing topic as well. Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves do have a reputation for giving the official an earful, but Messi and Andres Iniesta always seem to be the counter-balance when they stand back up without a peep. Neymar and Jordi Alba may have been when enough was enough for Wenger, as they were both much more vocal than usual.
A heated affair in the knockout rounds of the Champions League is expected to be physical and players will chirp, and it should be assumed that this criticism will be forgotten by the second leg.
Of all the unnecessary media fallout from Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Arsenal, one allegation does hold some weight. In the second half of the match, Gerard Pique had a quick word with Luis Enrique near the sideline and whatever it was, the manager wanted to keep it concealed. This is not the story, as no manager would want to give away a tactical change.
However, it is being reported that Lucho told Pique to pick up another yellow card, as thirty-six seconds after their conversation, the defender was booked. Since Pique was one yellow away from missing the return leg, there is a logical explanation to this order. By missing the return leg that Wenger even said Barcelona is almost certain to quality after, Pique would be able to return for the quarterfinals with a clean slate.
As evidenced by the shaky defense against Las Palmas without Pique, it would make sense that the Barcelona coaching staff would want him to be guaranteed for the first leg of the next round instead of playing and possibly picking up the second yellow in a match that Barcelona believed they can get the desired result from without him. If the coaching staff did indeed attempt to gain a strategic edge for the next round in a bout of confidence now, were they morally justified in doing so?
Plenty of media are calling it cheating, but while it may not be the best example of fair play, it should be classified as overconfidence instead of illegal. If Arsenal were to find a miracle in Catalunya, Luis Enrique will be vilified for this tactic. Though like every other piece of news coming after this match, this should be largely forgotten by the time the quarterfinals are announced.