Another refereeing spectacle involving Atlético Madrid took center stage to end matchday 11 of the 2021/22 LaLiga Santander campaign. Several controversial calls from referee Pablo González Fuertes blighted Thursday night’s 2-2 draw at Levante, in which Diego Simeone was sent to the stands with 10 minutes left and the hosts were awarded an 89th-minute penalty for little apparent reason.
Marca reporter David Medina quotes an Atlético dressing room source as saying “it has all been very strange” with respect to what happened at the Ciutat de València on Thursday.
Atlético routinely struggle at Levante’s home stadium, winning just twice there since 2007 (and only once under Simeone). But this time, the rojiblancos took a 12th-minute lead through an Antoine Griezmann header before Luis Suárez gave away a cheap (though correctly-called) penalty that Enis Bardhi buried eight minutes before halftime.
During this period, Levante began to target in-form João Félix, routinely grabbing, tugging, or cutting down the Portuguese star and incurring a single yellow card in the first 90 minutes (defender Rober Pier was shown two yellow cards and sent off during second half stoppage time). Meanwhile, Atlético were shown five yellow cards despite 11 total fouls — not including Simeone, who was shown a second yellow card in the 79th minute after imploring González Fuertes to penalize Bardhi for a crunching challenge on Rodrigo De Paul.
In LaLiga, no team has fouled less than Atleti (120 fouls in 10 games), but Cholo’s men have picked up the most bookings (38).
“(Levante) saw one yellow card with all the kicks they put on us, and for us, a yellow card was shown for less,” Héctor Herrera said after the game.
In the final minutes of normal time, VAR official Xavier Estrada Fernández spotted an ostensible Renan Lodi handball from a José Luís Morales cross in the Atlético box. Multiple replay angles showed no discernible contact between Lodi’s arm (bent inward) and the ball, which fizzed harmlessly through the box without any noticeable deflection off the Atlético player.
In fact, it’s Levante forward Jorge de Frutos who made contact with Morales’s cross, which may have fooled Estrada Fernández in the VAR room:
Nevertheless, González Fuertes gave the penalty moments later, much to the Levante players’ and fans’ surprise. Bardhi converted it with glee to secure the draw. Commentating on Radio Marca, former referee Alfonso Pérez Burrull said the decision to award a spot kick for that action was “twisted” and “far-fetched.”
The González Fuertes debacle follows other incidents that have drawn sixth-place Atlético’s ire already this season, such as Celta Vigo’s penalty in matchday one and Félix’s red card against Athletic Club. Atleti have a point — refereeing standards in Spain continue to drop each year, with VAR being (ab)used excessively and referees interpreting the criteria in a wildly-different manner from week to week.
Technical Committee of Referees president Carlos Velasco Carballo has been only too happy to tout VAR’s successes and to lash out at the perceived disrespect shown to match officials. But until the aforementioned standards are raised in the Spanish game, intense skepticism and cynicism regarding referees will continue to dwell among LaLiga fanbases, as well as players themselves.