Lazio 0, Milan 1: Referee Gone Wild

This has been a horrible week for refereeing in Serie A. Sunday, Orsato and Irrati paired up for some creative decisions that cost Milan two points against Atalanta. Midweek, there were a some controversial calls against Atalanta that favored Inter that was swept under the rug by the overwhelming final score. Friday at the Olimpico, Milan defeated Lazio 1-0, but Di Bello had a horror show with the cards. However, this is nothing new for Serie A. Ten years ago, I wrote about Refs Gone Wild, after another horror show by one Gianluca Rocchi, who is now the the Serie A referee designator. After ten years, and the additions of multiple forms of technology and rule changes meant to improving officiating in Serie A, Italian football is still regularly marred by a referee gone wild.

When your performance becomes a meme.

Milan's first half was not great. Lazio disrupted their play from the first minute and Milan were not able to find their rhythm. Vecino sent a header just wide from a corner in the eighth minute as kind of a warning. In the 12th minute, Maignan came out to clear the ball, and after making contact with the ball, he continued to slide, with Taty Castellanos colliding with him. Lazio players surrounded Di Bello for the first of many, many times, and Lazio fans made their disapproval very clear as well. But a VAR check confirmed that there was no penalty.

Pulisic was Lazio's punching bag for 90 minutes, yet he maintained his composure.

To be fair, Di Bello managed this call properly, but Lazio clearly felt that they were unfairly treated from this moment forward. That continued as Sarri was shown a yellow card for dissent in the 23rd minute. Gila took a knock a couple of minutes later and had to come off briefly for treatment. Pulisic was fouled hard, but no call, one of many, many times that happened on the night, one of many times that Di Bello should have intervened and did not. This was the kind of episode that truly caused the ref to lose control of the match. And to make matters worse, in the 32nd minute, Di Bello blocked the ball when Lazio were about to make a counter attack, resulting in a stoppage in play and a drop ball, making Lazio even more unhappy.

In the 36th minute, Pellegrini and Pulisic collided knee-to-knee, leaving the diminutive Milan winger apparently in more pain, but no call. Bennacer seemed to foul Luis Alberto pretty hard without a call, too. These episodes were adding up, and without any cards, they were creating a recipe for disaster. In the 46th minute, Pulisic cut in and took a fantastic shot that forced Provedel into a fantastic save, Milan's best chance of the half. Giroud sent a header over, and that was the end of the first half. 

Milan players somehow survived 90 minutes of this.

Milan came out focused and disciplined in the second half, and were able to find their rhythm right away, creating chances from the beginning. However, Lazio continued with their violent and disruptive play. Pellegrini fouled Pulisic hard, and was finally shown a yellow card in the 50th minute. In the 56th minute, he pulled Pulisic to the ground, earning a second yellow, therefore red, and leaving Lazio on ten men. 

This was controversial because Castellanos was down injured, and Pellegrini seemed to think Pulisic should have put the ball out or something, even though that was an option for him to do as well. And to be fair, whatever happened to Castellanos off of our screen likely should have been reviewed as well, as some reports say he was punched. But after the match, Pioli was questioned relentlessly about Pulisic somehow being unsporting, which is bizarre, considering that not only did Pulisic have his back to the player and had no idea he was down, but Pellegrini physically accosted him. Pellegrini and others from Lazio also publicly accused Milan of being unsporting. But how is the physical attack not the unsporting action here?

Lazio preaching about sporting behavior.

During the now expected Lazio swarming of the ref, Romagnoli was complaining to the fourth official and was also shown a yellow card. Meanwhile, amongst the resulting skirmishes, Luis Alberto actually headbutted Adli in a confrontation with him, but there were no repercussions for him. Complete chaos. A few minutes later, Florenzi earned the first Milan card of six yellow cards Di Bello would show the Rossoneri players in the second half. That also meant that Florenzi will be suspended on Sunday for the Empoli match for card accumulation. The former Roma player also sent a dangerous cross in a couple of minutes later, but Provedel was forced to palm it away.

Pioli began his substitutions by replacing Florenzi, now on a yellow, with Calabria, and replacing Bennacer with the new papa Reijnders. Adli also earned a yellow card, and was subsequently subbed off for Okafor in the 71st minute. Two minutes later, Reijnders sent a fantastic cross across the face of goal that Okafor stretched to try to get to, but couldn't quite reach. Giroud also had a couple of shots, but it was in the 74th minute that Loftus-Cheek sent in a powerful shot that forced Provedel into another huge save. Milan were definitely gaining momentum.

New Papa. Check. Gamechanger. Check.

At the other end, Immobile got a lucky opportunity that went just wide. Then, in the 76th minute, Reijnders sent another great cross in, and Leão took the shot, bouncing it into the top of the goal, to break the deadlock. Unfortunately, Semi-automatic Offside Technology was used to review the goal, and it was called back for Leão being just barely offside. Such a shame, too, it was a great cross and a great goal. This technology truly shows the disparity between the ultraprecise calls like this and the blatant human errors that adjudicate the rest of the match. Still the match was 0-0 all, and tensions were running high.

Gabbia earned his yellow in the 80th minute, then Pioli used his final two subs to replace Kjaer with Thiaw, and replace the cautioned Gabbia with the returning Tomori. So great to finally have all our defenders available, even if they are still regaining fitness. Reijnders sent a shot wide, then Theo Hernández was shown a yellow card for fouling Isaksen. Finally, the deadlock was officially broken when Okafor took a shot in the 88th that Provedel initially parried out, Giroud attempted again from point blank but was blocked, then Okafor took that rebound and sent it in, and even though Provedel got his hand to it, it continued to the back of the net. 1-0 Milan. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

When you need a goal, bring on Okaforfive.

In the 90th minute, Hysaj was only shown a yellow for elbowing Giroud hard in the back of the head. This looked intentional, and was perhaps the most violent and dangerous of the fouls on the night. Although there were so many to choose from. Hysaj was very lucky not to be sent off for this, and we are very lucky that Giroud was not seriously injured by this as well. Two minutes later, Immobile had another shot that went wide, and then Romagnoli, already on a yellow, fouled Giroud as well, and was also lucky not to be sent off. But that didn't stop his teammates.

In the 94th minute, Marušić shoved Leão, and as Di Bello seemed to be reaching for a yellow card, the Lazio player apparently said something vulgar and insulting to the referee, which resulted in a straight red card for him. Lazio were now down to nine men. Leão also earned a yellow card in this episode, and will also miss the Empoli match on Sunday. Still, Lazio were attacking, even on nine men, trying to at least get a point. However, they still focused more on the violence than the attack.

Gabbia once again one of the best players on the pitch, and a calm at the eye of the storm.

In the 96th minute, Guendouzi and Pulisic where pushing and pulling on each other, arms intertwined, when Guendouzi shoved Pulisic and was shown a straight red, while Pulisic was shown a yellow. Lazio finished on eight men. This image, of Di Bello holding up both cards, has quickly become a meme, but is representative of his overall performance in this match. A referee who lost control of the match with a team who lost the plot. There is a great commentary from Susy Campanale about referees, including this match from Di Bello, and why they are too often losing the plot in Serie A. 

But it also demonstrates that nothing has changed in ten years with Rocchi around. Milan fans will remember the infamous disallowed Gol di Muntari, which was infamously refereed by Tagliavento, but Rocchi was the fourth official in that team. Somehow, Rocchi was appointed as Referee Designator, although there are plenty of people, even plenty of referees, who have wanted him out for some time now. Even more shockingly, he was admitted to the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2021. I assumed this was an award for the worst referee ever, but it was actually legit. And to be fair, some of these referees now are giving him a run for his money.

Three strikes, you're out. And this is not even baseball.

Rocchi has tried to show more transparency by going on television and explaining referee decisions from the previous week's fixtures, after the Sporting Judge has made its ruling on those matches. However, this has honestly caused more controversy, and then there are the increasingly poor performances like we have seen of late. Di Bello not only made a proper mess out of this week, he also made the bogus penalty call in our Coppa Italia match vs Atalanta. He had also served a one month suspension earlier this season for a poor performance in a Juventus-Bologna match. And now, it seems he will be suspended for a month again for this performance, as Rocchi was reportedly highly critical of Di Bello. And if Rocchi is calling you out, you know you had a bad night.

But the consequences for Di Bello are only the beginning. Lazio will miss four or five players to suspension for at least the next match alone, with the three reds and  also player card accumulation, while Milan will miss two players due to yellow card accumulation. With Lotito, the Lazio staff, players, and the media accusing Pulisic and Milan of being unsporting, now Pulisic and his family have received death threats on social media. 

Leão had his goal called off and will miss Sunday's match thanks to 2 bad refs in a row.

Pulisic did nothing wrong. He was repeatedly fouled, and fouled hard for 90 minutes. When he and Guendouzi were entangled in stoppage time, that didn't even need to end in a yellow card for either player, really. That was some pretty normal physical play. But Guendouzi had already freaked out when Gabbia was shown his card for fouling him, screaming at the linesman, even though Gabbia was calm and definitely being cautioned. Just because the Lazio players were all triggered and completely hysterical the whole match should never lead to anyone getting death threats. Milan finally actually made a public statement of support about this, too, the players deserve at least this much.

Credit to Pioli and the entire Milan team for keeping their relative calm in a very loud Stadio Olimpico against opponents who were losing their minds if anyone looked at them funny. Yes, there were several skirmishes that broke out, and maybe even a full-on brawl after the final whistle, but Lazio were typically the aggressors, and Milan players seemed to largely be the ones stepping in with the cool heads to stop everything. 

Great to have Tomori back, a clean sheet, and all 3 points, especially in an away match.

However, none of this ever had to reach this boiling point. Even if Lazio players may have overreacted or gotten a little upset, Di Bello's incredibly poor management of the match and deplorable use of cards absolutely ruined this one and caused them to completely lose control. Milan won. With a clean sheet. Away. With another goal from a substitute. We should be celebrating. Instead, all that anyone is talking about is the referee gone wild.

This post inspired by the music of Måneskin's "Gasoline"

Our next match is 
Europa League Round of 16
AC Milan vs SK Slavia Praha
Thursday, March 7 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)

Lazio 0, Milan 1: Referee Gone Wild Lazio 0, Milan 1: Referee Gone Wild Reviewed by Elaine on 7:00 PM Rating: 5
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