Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini's incredible criticism of referee Jonas Eriksson is misplaced, according to Graham Poll in the Daily Mail.
Pellegrini reacted angrily to Eriksson's decision to award Barcelona a penalty and send off Martin Demichelis after the Argentinean defender fouled countryman Lionel Messi in the box. City went on to lose the game 2-0.
But former Premier League referee Poll says Eriksson made the right call:
Barcelona’s penalty was rightly awarded. Perhaps referee Jonas Eriksson missed a foul by Sergio Busquets on Jesus Navas before the Barca attack, but these things happen in football.
What cannot be disputed is that Martin Demichelis fouled Lionel Messi fully in the knowledge that the Argentine was through and would most likely have scored. It was a clear red card.
Pellegrini had claimed that the Swedish referee had made a mistake in an earlier Champions League game between AC Milan and Barcelona and had tried to remedy it against City, as reported by Chris Wheeler and Pete Jenson in the Daily Mail:
He refereed Barcelona against Milan and made an important error against Barca — tonight he remedied it. From the beginning the referee was not impartial to both teams.
There is more important football in Europe than Sweden. This was a game with two important teams and it needed a referee with more experience.
He didn’t have any control of the game. It was not a good idea to put a referee from Sweden in charge of such an important match.
It is one of the first times Pellegrini has lost his cool publicly. The Chilean is usually a very cool customer who does not engage in slanging matches with referees or other managers.
Matt Dickinson, the Times' chief sports correspondent, believes Pellegrini was using his criticism to deflect from City's poor performance:
Another day which demonstrates why managers should be barred from discussing refs. Some fools might even buy that nonsense from Pellegrini— Matt Dickinson (@DickinsonTimes) February 19, 2014
Barcelona defender Dani Alves took the same line, when he was quoted by the Daily Mail saying that blaming the referee is not acceptable for explaining defeat:
They always talk about the referees when Barcelona win; they try to take the credit away from us.
We don’t need to defend ourselves. We just try to play our game but somehow when we win they end up talking about the officials.
Alves, like Poll, is right. Pellegrini's criticisms are a smokescreen to cover City's shortcomings on the night.
Demichelis has been a weak link for City on several occasions this season, most recently during the 1-0 Premier League defeat against Chelsea, and he showed he is not good enough for this level of game.
As a Pellegrini signing, Demichelis is the responsibility of the manager and it is key that City's defence is strengthened this summer.
City are regarded as underdogs to progress from their tie against Barcelona, but there was a feeling that they might be able to get a positive result at the Etihad to give them a chance in the return leg at the Camp Nou.
However, the style of City's defeat makes it extremely unlikely that they will overturn the result, and the club look likely to make an early exit from the Champions League.
If Pellegrini is to look at the positives of an exit from the competition, he can comfort himself with the knowledge that he took City past the group stage for the first time in their history.
To be drawn against a superpower like Barcelona when Sergio Aguero is injured is misfortune, but the club still have the chance to win the Premier League, FA Cup and Capital One Cup this season.
If Pellegrini can win one or two pieces of major silverware then he can consider his first season at City a success, but he is under pressure to improve their results in Europe and, if they are knocked out by Barcelona, he will have to go further than the round of 16 next season to show progress is being made.