Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has denied suggestions that Gerard Pique got himself yellow-carded on purpose late on in Tuesday's UEFA Champions League clash with Arsenal.
The Blaugrana won the first leg 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium, and the Spanish defender will now be suspended for the return clash at the Camp Nou, meaning he will go into an inevitable quarter-final tie with a clean record.
However, despite having had a brief discussion with Pique just before he drew the yellow card late on, Enrique denied that it was planned, per MailOnline's Dan Ripley: "It was not deliberate, anyone who saw the foul knows it."
Having been frustrated for an hour by the hosts, Barca claimed their victory at Arsenal thanks to two goals in the final 20 minutes from Lionel Messi.
See highlights of the clash below:
With Messi having established the two-goal cushion from the penalty spot with seven minutes remaining, Pique got himself cautioned moments later for a reckless challenge on Danny Welbeck.
There is precedent for such tactics. Real Madrid duo Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso both seemed to get themselves deliberately sent off in a group match against Ajax in 2010 which meant they had clean disciplinary records for the first knockout round, per the Telegraph's Emily Benammar.
And it is a move that makes sense. The chances of Arsenal turning around the two-goal deficit at the Camp Nou are next to nothing.
Pique's suspension now means, barring injury, he will be available for a likely last-eight tie as Barca continue their pursuit of a second consecutive Champions League.
As the Evening Standard's James Olley noted, though, if it was deliberate, it is a fairly damning indictment of Arsenal's chances in Catalonia:
If Pique really did get booked deliberately to miss the 2nd leg, what a damning assessment Barcelona have made of #afc's chances from here.— James Olley (@JamesOlley) February 23, 2016
The Gunners went into the tie as distinct underdogs and could do little in the end to stop Enrique's superlative Barca side—currently ranked as the best in Europe by Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe:
Even if, as the Spanish manager insisted, Pique's yellow card was not deliberate, it has resulted in a somewhat advantageous outcome.
Barca have more than enough quality in their squad to see out the tie at the Camp Nou without Pique and march on through to the quarter-finals.