Uefalona: Do Barcelona really play a man up?

There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years that Barcelona are favored by the refs. Sometimes it’s accompanied by talk of a vast conspiracy. Is it true?

Well… let’s look at the two decisions a ref can make that can change the course of the game the most: red cards and penalties. I’m not going to get into the validity of either, because that’s typically something that 1) people can’t agree on and 2) has already been analyzed to death. Numbers are a different story.

Red Cards

*Note: unless I specifically say otherwise, I have subtracted the total minutes a team played with a man down to the minutes they played with a man up.

It is true that in the last five years, Barcelona have played a man up more often by the numbers than anyone else, and by a pretty significant amount: Barcelona are at 158 minutes, well over second-placed Liverpool’s 100.

So, they do play a man up a lot more, right?

Well, not quite.

The issue with raw numbers is that Barcelona have played so much more time in the Champions League over the last five years than anyone else that raw numbers are virtually meaningless. At 2880 minutes over the course of the last five seasons, they have over a thousand minutes on everyone but second-placed Chelsea (2460) and Manchester United (2280).

What about percentages?

Well, then the list starts to look a bit different.


Minutes with man up (man down)

Total minutes


Shakhtar Donetsk

49 (0)




100 (0)




66 (0)




188 (30)



Bayern Munich

88 (17)




19 (0)



Real Madrid

75 (48)




94 (77)




44 (34)




22 (31)




0 (5)



Manchester United

24 (56)




0 (38)




0 (17)



Inter Milan

41 (200)




0 (20)



CSKA Moscow

0 (41)




0 (22)




0 (50)



Tottenham Hotspur

0 (75)



There are two teams with significant CL experience that eclipse Barcelona by a fair amount, and another that isn’t that far off. Barca are up there, but they’re not so unusual by the numbers.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a complete myth.

Almost every season involves red cards, and there tends to be a team or two that end up playing a man up more than everyone else.


Minutes played with a man up

Team with advantage


Semi-final: Barcelona v. Chelsea (second leg) 53 Barcelona
Quarter-final: Chelsea v. Benfica (second leg) 50 Chelsea
Round of 16: APOEL v. Lyon (second leg) 5 Lyon
Round of 16: Inter v. Marseille (second leg) 0 Inter


Semi-final: Real Madrid v. Barcelona (first leg) 29 Barcelona
Quarter-final: Manchester United v. Chelsea (second leg) 20 Manchester
Quarter-final: Real Madrid v. Tottenham (first leg) 75 Real Madrid
Quarter-final: Inter v. Schalke (first leg) 28 Schalke
Round of 16: Barcelona v. Arsenal (second leg) 34 Barcelona
Round of 16: Shakhtar Donetsk v. Roma (second leg) 49 Shakhtar
Round of 16: Valencia v. Schalke (first leg) 0 Valencia


Semi-final: Barcelona v. Inter (second leg) 72 Barcelona
Semi-final: Bayern Munich v. Lyon (first leg) 17 Lyon
Semi-final: Lyon v. Bayern Munich (second leg) 31 Bayern Munich
Quarter-final: CSKA Moscow v. Inter (second leg) 41 Inter
Quarter-final: Manchester United v. Bayern Munich (second leg) 40 Bayern Munich
Quarter-final: Arsenal v. Barcelona (first leg) 6 Arsenal
Round of 16: Bayern Munich v. Florentina (first leg) 17 Bayern Munich
Round of 16: Milan v. Manchester United (first leg) 0 Milan


Semi-final: Chelsea v. Barcelona (second leg) 24 Chelsea
Semi-final: Arsenal v. Manchester United (second leg) 16 Arsenal
Quarter-final: Arsenal v. Villarreal (second leg) 22 Arsenal
Round of 16: Chelsea v. Juventus (second leg) 20 Chelsea
Round of 16: Barcelona v. Lyon (second leg) 0 Barcelona


Final: Manchester United v. Chelsea 4 Manchester
Round of 16: Porto v. Schalke (second leg) 38 Schalke
Round of 16: Liverpool v. Inter (first leg) 60 Liverpool
Round of 16: Inter v. Liverpool (second leg) 40 Liverpool
Round of 16: Real Madrid v. Roma (second leg) 19 Roma

*Note: where the number is 0, the red was given in extra time at the end of the game.

As you can see, in 07-08, it was Liverpool by a wide margin. The following year, it was Arsenal and Chelsea. In 09-10, Barcelona and Bayern Munich were close, and in 10-11, Barcelona were ahead of Real Madrid, though not by much, even subtracting Pepe’s sending off – it balanced out to about 1.5% difference, or 17 minutes. Last year, it was Barcelona again.

Last season was the only season in the last five years in which only Barcelona had a significant advantage in terms of playing with a man up, and even their percentage there didn’t deviate radically from percentages we’ve seen in the past among teams that have had that advantage in the past.

However, it is true that for the last three years, Barcelona have repeatedly ended up with an advantage, where other teams have largely had that advantage limited to a season.

So, yes – in raw numbers, it is true that Barcelona have spent more time playing a man up in the last three years than other teams. However, there are a few caveats to this, and I think the most significant one involves the man who championed the conspiracy theories in the first place: Jose Mourinho.

101 of the 158 minutes Barcelona have spent playing a man up in the last five years were against Jose Mourinho-led sides, and Jose Mourinho-led sides tend to get red cards against Barcelona. If you exclude those games, Barcelona’s percentage drops down to 2.3%.

Since Mourinho took over at Porto in 2002, his sides have spent 159 minutes playing a man up and 188 minutes playing a man down in the knock out rounds of the CL. All 188 minutes played a man down were against Barcelona – 87 with Chelsea (which were pre-2007), 72 with Inter, and 29 with Madrid.

That adds up to an astonishing 26.1% of the time playing a man down against Barcelona in the knock out rounds of the CL. In fact, every time his team has met Barca in the KO rounds – Chelsea in the Round of 16 in 2005 and 2006, Inter in the semi-finals in 2010, and Real Madrid in the semi-finals in 2011 – they had a man thrown off in one of the two legs.

Even if you include his group games against Barcelona with Chelsea in 2006 and Inter in 2009, where no one was sent off, he’s still at 17.4%.

The reasons for this are unclear, but they’re consistent enough that they don’t just seem to be coincidence. It’s not so much that Barcelona get to play a man up more than everyone else – it’s that Mourinho tends to play a man down against Barcelona. That’s not to say that it doesn’t help them out, but there’s something specific about the Mourinho-Barcelona dynamic that’s a little odd. Without it, this last season would be the only one where Barcelona were the team that stood out.

Short answer: Yes, in the last five years, Barcelona have played a man up more consistently than many other teams, though it’s been overstated: both Liverpool and Schalke are above them in percentages and Bayern Munich are just below them.

However, 101 of their 158 minutes have been against Mourinho-led sides. If not for those, they’d be at 2.3% rather than 5.5%. In fact, over the course of his career, Mourinho has had men thrown off against Barcelona quite regularly in the KO stages of the CL. Uefalona, or is there something about the Mourinho-Barcelona dynamic that makes matches more tense? Your call.

Penalties to follow…


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