As football came back to life after three months-long drought, the Laliga title race became even more intense. Barca started off being 2 points ahead of Real Madrid after Madrid blew off their chance to regain top spot by losing to Real Betis just before football hibernated amidst Corona Pandemic.
But currently, Barca is only one point behind Zidane’s Madrid who is on solid form since the season resumed. When Spanish giants are colliding with everything they have, controversies come along.
Whether it is some mere luck or some ill-intervention from VAR, nobody knows. But, there is way too much tension in and out of the dressing room of both sides.
KEY INCIDENCES SURROUNDING VAR
REAL MADRID VS EIBAR
In the first game against Eibar, after resume, there were few speculations after Real Madrid took an early lead in the 4th minute through a stunning Toni Kroos strike. It looked like Benzema was offside in the build-up, but after consulting with VAR, the goal did stand. It caused a stir among fans, especially Barca fans as it looked like Benzema was offside.
But the offside line showed he was just behind Rober Correa.”The Eibar player’s foot plays Benzema onside.” MARCA’s refereeing expert Andujar Oliver said on Radio MARCA. Eibar responded in 60 mins with a goal from Pedro Bigas, and it also seemed doubtful similar to that of Benzema. After the consultation, that goal did stand.
So, that clears the controversy because the referee made the same decision in those similar situations.
REAL MADRID VS VALENCIA
On June 19, Real Madrid hosted Valencia, trailing Barcelona by 5 points after Barca had beaten Leganes 2-0. Valencia thought they took the lead from Rodrigo Monero’s finish in the 20th minute into the game. But, the referee Sanchez Martinez went up to VAR and ruled out the goal considering Maxi Gomez was offside in the build-up.
Gomez appeared to be in an offside position by centimetres, but he didn’t intend to touch the ball and replays showed that one extra touch might have come off Varane. Had the goal stood, the sequence would indeed have been different from Madrid’s perspective.
It was a very controversial call and stirred a significant debate among fans and even Barca players. Arturo Vidal had previously shown his despise against arbitration in favour of Madrid in Champions League games. He didn’t hesitate after this game either. He took up to his Instagram to share his thoughts about it.
REAL MADRID VS REAL SOCIEDAD
After Barca ended a goalless draw against Sevilla, they were still on top of the league table with 3 points ahead. But Real Madrid victory over Sociedad would bring them to the top with head to head advantage.
After 48 mins into the game, Real took advantage via penalty given after Vinicius went down with a slight tackle from Llorente. There sure was contact but many speculated if it were for the other side, they wouldn’t award it. But either way, there was contact, so, fair enough.
But what created chaos was, when at 68th minute, substitute Januzaj picked out a corner with low drive only to be ruled out for offside. It seemed like Merino was deemed in Thibaut Courtois’ line of sight something like a sense of ‘deja vu’ of what happened back in the game against Valencia.
It looked like, but still, it wasn’t clear if Merino was blocking the site of Courtois. Sociedad was holding Los Blancos well, so, if this equalizer had stood, the scenario would have been entirely different.
There was another big controversy when Benzema scored to seal the game at 70th minute. He brought down Valverde’s cross, and there was possible handball before he struck the back of the net.
After VAR rechecked, the goal stood saying the contact was above shoulder level.
But the question that came after this was, Would it happen for Barca?
Because back in January, Barca lost to Atletico Madrid 2-3 in Super cup. In that game, there was a similar situation. Barca had the chance to take 2-1 lead with a beautiful Leo Messi’s strike, but the goal was ruled out. VAR checked and called off for handball after the ball came in contact with his tip of the shoulder.
As said earlier, consistency is a key when it comes to a stressful situation, and VAR didn’t show any sign of it.
REAL MADRID VS MALLORCA
Considering how a win against Mallorca would take Madrid back to the top with head to head advantage over Barca, it was a critical game for Madrid. They won the game 2-0, but there was controversy regarding 1st goal.
Carvajal collided with Dani Rodriguez at the start of the passage of their play which ended up in a goal by the swift finish from Vinicius junior. The referee waved off the continuous protest from Mallorca players.
They sealed the game with a beautiful free-kick from Sergio Ramos. There were questions of why Ramos wasn’t send off for shoving Raillo just before half time. He was already on a yellow, and there were several occasions where he has been reckless with his tackles. But, we have seen referee always trying to prevent early red unless it is a clear cut strong tackle. So, this is understandable.
But, it again comes down to general wondering whether it would have stood if it happened for the other side. Especially when there already had been way too much unpleasant intervention in favour of Los Blancos side.
REAL MADRID VS ESPANYOL
It was probably the only game where VAR didn’t play a part in their victory. If anything happened, it was against Real Madrid. Diego Lopez fouled Benzema, and there was a call for a possible penalty. The play continued, and eventually, they won the game with a goal from Casemiro after a beautiful back-heel pack from Benzema.
REAL MADRID VS GETAFE
Getafe showed early signs of passion and seemed like they could bring Real Madrid down. At 16th minute, Carvajal brought down Cucurella to prevent a dangerous run-in for goal. He got away with just a yellow card. It was crucial because later on, it was Carvajal who earned a penalty for Real Madrid.
Getafe players were unhappy with how Carvajal was continually getting away with fouls quickly. There was a possible call for a penalty when Olivera tumbled with Carvajal inside the box and went down in the first half.
Some Madrid fans claimed there was a possible penalty for Real Madrid a few minutes later after the penalty call for Getafe was made. Casemiro was knocked over by Olivera very close to the edge of the box. It looked like a penalty in the first look, but replay showed it was just outside the box and, the free-kick was awarded.
Ramos sealed the game with a crucial penalty at 80th minute after Olivera brought down Carvajal. It was a clear penalty as Olivera couldn’t cope up with his pace. But had Carvajal been sent off earlier, maybe it wouldn’t happen which makes it another controversial one.
REAL MADRID VS ATHLETIC CLUB
Among all the controversies that took place, this game was the one that got immense chaos around the football community. Athletic Club was holding Zidane’s men pretty well till 68th minute.
Los Blancos were awarded a penalty after Dani Gracia stepped on Marcelo’s foot in the final third. Marcelo went down, and the play continued till Madrid managed a shot afterwards. Then, the referee decided to check with VAR for the possible penalty.
A few minutes later, we saw Raul Gracia in the ground after colliding with Ramos in the penalty area. Replay showed it was precisely the same kind of tackle for which real Madrid was awarded that crucial penalty. But, it didn’t even go to VAR review. So many players showed their remorse to this.
“We have seen in these last few weeks which teams get these controversial decisions. Everyone can draw their own conclusions.”
– Iker Muniain (Athletic club) in post match interview
Few more players came out to show their disappointment including Barcelona player Arturo Vidal and ex-Barca right-back legend, Dani Alves.
But, it came into news that Athletic wasn’t awarded the penalty because of an ill translated version of Spanish law regarding penalty decision. A column in Spanish sports newspaper AS claimed that there is an essential distinction in the wording of football’s law in Spanish and English versions.
The writer, Eduardo Iturralde González, a retired Spanish football referee, talked about possible mistranslation that led to this controversy. He mentioned that the English version says that there is no need to challenge for the ball in order to commit a foul. But, in the Spanish version, a line is added which specifies challenging for the ball for a foul to have been committed.
In this game, Dani Gracia fouled Marcelo when he was playing with the ball while Ramos’s indiscretion was off-the ball. But, IFAB rule, section 12 still says the foul should have been given. Mostly because these two incidences, both happened in the same game.
REAL MADRID VS ALAVES
Relentless Real Madrid edged closer to the title with eight wins in a row. Despite missing out Ramos and Carvajal for suspension and Marcelo injured, they looked sharp defensively.
Then came the 11th-minute Penalty after Ferland Mendy was judged fouled by Ximo Navarro just at the edge of the box. It was the third consecutive game where penalty broke the deadlock for Los Blancos and their 4th spot-kick in the last six games.
There again was controversy related to the penalty awarded as it looked as if the contact was made just outside the penalty box. Some even considered it to be a mild tackle for it to be judged penalty.
They scored their second goal through Asensio with a square ball from Benzema. It was called offside after VAR reviewed. But, it might be a result of too many controversies that happened, but there were words about how the offside line didn’t look like a straight line in the review.
While everyone was talking about how Madrid was being favoured by VAR, on so many occasions, there were times when it looked like things weren’t looking good for Barca either. After Los Blancos got the controversial win against Valencia, Barca slipped in the title race by a goalless draw against Sevilla.
Dishearted Pique said, “I see it difficult for Real Madrid to lose points, seeing how these two days have gone; it will be difficult.” He was probably indicating to the Valencia-Madrid game.
BARCELONA VS CELTA
In the thrilling match against Celta, Barca had looked livelier than they had in opening spells of the past game since the restart. They dominated possession well but their second half was rather sloppy.
In the final minutes when it looked like Barca had survived the chaos with 2-1 lead, Rafinha won a free-kick just at the edge of the box with a tackle from Pique. Iago Aspas scored a beautiful goal into the bottom corner from the spot to equalize, and Barca was left stunned.
Although it looked like, there was contact, and Pique found it frustrating since how the other contender was getting away with so many similar incidences.
After the game in Balaidos, Gerard Pique took no time to post a comment in social media. He posted a simple tweet in English, borrowing a line from a song by the US group, MGMT. “We were fated to pretend. To pretend.” He probably was referring to all the controversies happening in the games post resumption.
BARCA VS ATLETICO MADRID
Both teams were up against each other with many expectations. Barca took an early lead with Diego Costa’s own goal from Leo Messi’s corner,. Still, Catalan giants were stunned when Atletico was awarded a penalty for a foul on Yannick Carrasco by Arturo Vidal.
Ter Stegen stunned Costa but was made to retake the penalty after VAR rechecked. Saul Niguez made no mistake and equalized.
It looked like Stegen heel was less than an inch off the line. Off the line means it should be ruled out but to imagine sitting in the VAR room and rechecking it to find minute detail like this in such a scenario is what made fans furious.
Catalans won a penalty in the 48th minute after Felipe fouled Semedo and Messi reached his 700 goal milestone with a beautiful panenka. But, it didn’t last long when Semedo gave away a penalty with the slightest touch on Yannick Carrasco.
When Saul was taking 3rd penalty of the game, it looked like Angel Correa was spotted striding forward in the box. Fans wondered how the same VAR that noticed Stegen being off the line failed to notice it.
BARCA VS VILLARREAL
This probably was the only game post-resume where Barca showed a spark of improvement and some quality. Barca won the game by 4-1 with a goal from Suarez, Griezmann, Fati and Pau Torres own goal.
There was a very interesting reaction from Gerard Pique when Messi’s goal was disallowed for offside following a VAR review, despite being 3-1 ahead.
BARCELONA VS ESPANYOL
It was an exciting derby for both sides. Provided the game ended winless, it would create massive trouble for either side. Barca would slip further in the title race while Espanyol would relegate if the game were to end winless.
Barca had an abysmal first half, and Setien made early changes in the second half, bringing Ansu Fati for Semedo. But, Barca’s teenage forward was sent off for a reckless tackle, five minutes after coming off the bench. Still, Espanyol’s numerical advantage lasted only three minutes as Pol Lozano was dismissed, also following a VAR review.
Fati was given a yellow card initially, but Referee Montero went up to VAR for a very quick recheck to convert it to red.
There were speculations regarding how referee needed very quick look to give it a Red to Fati.
Moreover, it looked like the second red-card was awarded because of how similar incidence happened in the same game. Barca could have been in a very difficult situation had a similar tackle didn’t happen.
BARCELONA VS VALLADOLID
In the game against Valladolid, Barça had a solid first half. With Puig, Roberto, Busquets in the midfield, Barca started off playing like how they should be. They took the lead via an excellent Arturo Vidal goal assisted by the magician, Leo Messi.
Second half was rather sloppy, but Pique had a good laugh when he felt that there should have been a penalty and wasn’t awarded. In the 71st minute, Suarez called for a penalty. Still, referee Mateo Lahoz did not appeal to VAR. 5 minutes later, Piqué got taken down in the penalty area, and again, the referee denied.
Pique was seen having words with referee Mateo Lahoz probably indicating how we have seen penalties given in such situation.
Many people came forward to talk about this ongoing VAR controversy surrounding Real Madrid. Zidane said “It bothers me that in the end, everyone talks about the referees. It seems like we haven’t done anything ourselves on the field.”
Diego Simeone came into defence of Real Madrid VAR controversy. He claimed that the controversies surrounding VAR technology were blown out of proportion.
“If Teams are given more penalties it is because they attack more like Real Madrid.”
Diego Simeone believes the introduction of VAR has been a good thing for attacking teams, such as Real Madrid. He further went on and said, “VAR exposes everything.”
Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu also had his say on the current controversy.
He said, “I feel bad because we have the best league in the world but, VAR after coronavirus isn’t fair. It has changed some results and always favours the same team.”
Setien also didn’t hold back from talking about the things that were happening in Laliga. He mentioned about VAR system not being used correctly in La Liga.
“There are things that we cannot control and that do not depend on us. Everybody saw what happened in Anoeta and everyone will draw their own conclusions,” Setien told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s match against Athletic Bilbao.
“Understandably, we think why there are some actions that are reviewed, the referee himself reviews them, and they don’t do the same in other plays.”
“They do it on some matches and in some others (they don’t). So you could think that (VAR) is not being used correctly.”
Setien also said that controversies were part of football.
CONCLUSION ON VAR CONTROVERSY
There always have been controversies, and it is almost unavoidable when these Spanish giants are colliding for the title this close. There have been many situations that made people question the validity of VAR. But, if we look at the way Real Madrid have kept a superb form, we can say, they wanted the title.
Just like how Simeone mentioned about it’s the way they attack that earns them a penalty. And statistically observing, Real Madrid averaged >15 shots on target while Barca managed about 13 shots on target on average. Meanwhile, Real Madrid fans have talked about the number of times they were at a disadvantage because of the bad referee and VAR decisions explaining in twitter threads.
Barca and Real Madrid are the two best teams of Laliga. If we look at the statistics, Real Madrid has been awarded 530 penalties in 2870 Laliga games, and Barca sits behind with 504 penalties. This proves the dominant team who have more possession are likely to get penalties.
Former legendary Barca player, Rivaldo came on and talked about how Bartomeu was using VAR controversy only as a distraction, and the real problem is the way they play.
“In my opinion, the problem is not the VAR or controversial decisions. The fundamental problem is the low quality of football. Barça needs to improve to return to their iconic style and make everyone fall in love with the football again.”, said Rivaldo.
Just like how Rivaldo said we had seen Barca on and off in form since resuming after coronavirus. We were ahead of Madrid before starting since resume and Madrid deserves credit for their efficiency and how they kept the winning form ongoing.
Furthermore, in a column written by Rube Ares on July 7, explained how these interventions would have made no difference in the Laliga race.
Barca players look more motivated because of these VAR controversies, and till the league is mathematically unsecured, they need to keep fighting. Real need 2 wins to seal the title, but it’s Barca who needs to work hard to keep the hope alive. At the end of the day, what matters is who kept fighting!