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Time and time again over the past few seasons, we’ve seen controversial red cards propel teams forward in the Champions League.

The most recent controversial red card was the high boot from Manchester United’s Nani on Real Madrid’s Alvaro Arbeloa.

Manchester United's Nani is sent off by Cuneyt Cakir after a high tackle on Real Madrid's Alvaro Arbeloa

Nani is sent off by Cuneyt Cakir after a tackle on Real Madrid’s Alvaro Arbeloa

Manchester United looked strong and expected to go through, until that challenge changed the game completely. Real Madrid used the extra space well and broke down Manchester United rather easily, which saw “Los Blancos” advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions league yet again.  This made me immediately think of other controversial red cards, most of which helped Barcelona.

Here’s some red cards I could come up with off the top of my head

Barcelona 1-0 Arsenal – Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann, gets sent off. (Barcé win the Champions League)

Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal – Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, gets sent off. (Barcé advance)

Barcelona 1-0 Inter Milan – Inter Milan’s Thiago Motta got sent off (Inter advance)

Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea – Chelsea’s captain, John Terry, gets sent off (Chelsea advance)

Real Madrid 4-0 Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs’ Peter Crouch gets sent off (Real Madrid eventually advance)

Including the first one mentioned, that’s six controversial red cards, favouring the two top Spanish teams. You’d think with just looking at these instances, UEFA and/or the refs are looking to help these teams. However, before I wanted to point fingers, I conducted my own research, gathering all of the red cards over the past 11 years in the Champions League.

Beneficial to damaging red cards

The first thing that struck me as interesting was out of all of the teams that have played 50+ games over the past 11 years, which is 16 teams, for every damaging red card a team would receive, they would receive two beneficial red cards. 10 of those teams are below that average, one is on the average, and out of the four teams that are above the average, three are well above it.

The ratio of beneficial to damaging red cards is beneficial red cards divided by damaging red cards

The ratio of beneficial to damaging red cards is beneficial red cards divided by damaging red cards (ratio = Brc/Drc)

Not surprisingly Barcelona is 2 times above the average, and oddly enough Lyon is 4 times above the average. Despite this, if you look at the ratio of beneficial red cards to their overall number of red cards, it puts things into perspective.

Liverpool – 5 beneficial red cards – 8 total red cards (62.5%)

Barcelona – 13 beneficial red cards (the most out of all 97 teams) – 19 total red cards (68.4%)

Lyon – 8 beneficial red cards -15 total red cards (53.3%)

PSV – 9 beneficial red cards – 22 total red cards (40.9%)

How far do they progress?

So what? Barcelona picks up a lot of red cards that help them. So does Lyon PSV, and Liverpool. Does this high ratio of beneficial to damaging red cards actually help in how far they progress in the Champions League?

Average Score is an score on how far each team progresses

Average Score is an score on how far each team progresses. (1=Group stage, 2=Knockout stage, 4=Quarter-final, 6=Semi-final, 8=Final, 10=Win)

By looking at the graph, you would say yes. In a lot of cases this is consistent, especially in the teams we examined before, except one; Lyon. In my opinion, you can safely rule them out of getting favourable treatment. Although, you could say that they aren’t taking advantage of getting favourable treatment.

When looking at the rest of the graph, it’s good to see that teams do well without getting a high ratio of beneficial red cards, such as teams like, Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Inter, Milan, and Juventus. To me, this shows how much quality those teams actually have. They overcome adversity and perform well in the one of the toughest tournaments to win.

Is there a favouritsm towards certain countries?

With all of this talk and red cards benefitting teams, does it actually benefit the team? Sure it does.  At least for individual teams (as we’ve examined), but is there an overall favouritsm towards a specific country?

Comparing between country's Avg Score to the Brc to Drc ratio

Comparing between country’s Avg Score to the Brc to Drc ratio.

From looking at the graph, it doesn’t seem like the ratio of beneficial to damaging red cards effects how well the teams from a certain country perform in the Champions League. English teams perform the best while getting a lowish ratio, Italian teams do just about as well as Spanish teams with a significantly lower ratio (side note: it would be interesting to see how well the Italian teams do with the same ratio as Spanish teams), and French teams have a high ratio but don’t perform as well in comparison to others of the same ratio.

The only country that seems to take advantage of the ratio of benefitial to damaging red cards is Holland. They have the highest ratio, and perform roughly the same as Russian teams, who have a significantly lower ratio. I can only imagine what would’ve happened for Holland without all of the beneficial red cards, or how well Russia would do without all of the damaging red cards.

Can we point fingers?

In the case of Barcelona, I would point fingers. Barcelona receive two times above the average ratio of beneficial red cards to damaging red cards.  They have the most beneficial red cards out of all of the teams that have played in the Champions League over the past 11 years (13) which corresponds with their average final position (a semi final), again the highest position out of all of the teams.

Another reason to point fingers is that Barcelona has only had three damaging red cards in all of the 11 years taken into consideration. One of which was against Real Madrid, and 16 minutes after Barcelona picked up their red card, Pepe got awarded a red card and things were evened up, and Barcelona eventually won the game. Although, the two other red cards, were genuinely damaging. One against Chelsea in the 08-09 Champions League, the other against Arsenal in the 09-10 Champions League. In all, that’s two red cards out of 19, that were genuinely damaging. That’s just over 10% of all of their red cards. To me, that’s completely ridiculous, unacceptable, and unfair.

In contrast, I would say that you cannot accuse UEFA or the refs of any favourable actions towards Spanish teams in general. Real Madrid seem to be on par with any average put forward and do not profit that much from their beneficial to damaging red card ratio. In addition, out of all of the other Spanish teams that played in the Champions League over the past 11 years, which was nine, only one had more beneficial than damaging red cards, which was Celta Vigo.

As some people say, there is definitely proof within the pudding. Barcelona consistantly get favourable treatment and continue to take advantage of that treatment. With the current events of match fixing in the news, in my opinion, they should look into the games Barcelona have played in the Champions League to see if there are any wrong doings.

Post written by Steven Scott
Blog: One Touch Soccer, Twitter: @OneTouchSoccer

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