Bayern Munich and Barcelona are among the most accomplished and most attractive teams in the world. Both are capable of winning the Champions League outright and neither needs outside assistance to beat opponents along the way.
They seem to be getting the breaks anyway.
On Tuesday, Barca won, 2-0, at Manchester City after the home side was reduced to 10 men for most of the second half. On Wednesday, Bayern won by the same score at Arsenal after the home side was reduced to 10 men before halftime.
There was nothing sinister or wrong in either case. City defender Martin Demichelis made a desperate tackle on Lionel Messi and the law says it is an automatic red card to deny a goal- scoring opportunity with a foul.
Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny took a rash kick, missed the ball and swiped the shin of Arjen Robben, and once again the referee correctly applied the letter of the law. He sent Szczesny off and awarded Munich the clear penalty.
As it happened, Bayern’s David Alaba missed the kick, hitting the base of a post. But Bayern Munich is too good a side not to hurt a depleted opponent — and fine goals from Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller converted the numerical advantage into a comfortable away win.
The rule amounts to double jeopardy. The law states that a foul that denies an obvious scoring opportunity will automatically be punished by the red card. And if it occurs inside the 18-yard penalty box, then the award of a penalty kick (an obvious scoring opportunity) is automatic as well.
Most people of fair mind regard this double punishment as excessive. FIFA sees it as the answer to foul play. The red card is mandatory and the referee has no discretion to decide whether a penalty kick is sufficient. And often — certainly in the two Champions League encounters this week — the game is marred as a spectacle thereafter.
In the words of the Bayern coach, Pep Guardiola, on television after the game, “Arsenal was much, much better than us for the first 10 to 15 minutes. After the red card, it was another game.”
Certainly it was. Arsenal, even Wenger’s Arsenal — noted for its adventurous, even romantic play — withdrew all nine remaining outfield players behind the ball. Against the reigning European champion, that time could not last forever.
Arsenal had its chances early. After eight minutes, Mesut Ozil, a German and a national team colleague of many on the Bayern team, missed a penalty kick of his own. Ozil had won the penalty award when he tricked Jerome Boateng into a clumsy foul that the Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli decided was worth a yellow card.
But it is a puzzle why Ozil was Arsenal’s designated penalty taker. He had fluffed …continued »