There are often conspiracy theories in Spain about Real Madrid being favoured by referees and if you ever wanted to show evidence of this, the game against Almería at the weekend is certainly one to be looked at.
Going into the game on 21st January 2024, Almería had just 6 points and 0 wins so a comfortable win was expected for Real. Perhaps surprisingly, manager Carlo Ancelotti fielded a near full strength team despite playing the Super Cup final the week before in Saudi Arabia and then a 4-2 loss to arch rivals Atlético Madrid after extra time just 3 days before this game.
They looked tired from the start and Ancelotti admitted he misjudged the team. After just 38 seconds, Almería scored through Largie Ramazani after a quick break away and doubled their lead in the 43rd minute with a quality strike from Edgar González.
Real had not threatened throughout the game and the first controversial VAR moment was an extremely harsh penalty after 55 minutes as Kaiky Fernandes appeared to be pushed, had his eyes closed and the ball hit his naturally outstretched arm. The referee had not given the handball and was asked to view the VAR monitor. A lifeline for Madrid as the penalty was converted by Jude Bellingham.
Just a few minutes later, the Bernabéu fell silent as Sergio Arribas scored what looked like a perfectly good third goal for Almería who looked well on course for their first win of the season. Ramazani crossed for Sergio Arribas to provide a neat finish but after wild celebrations, the game paused and the referee was again asked to look at the VAR monitor. Dion Lopy was penalised for a soft brush off when challenging Bellingham back in the Almería half. How far do we go back to find a foul to help Real Madrid? It seems as far as required.
To further add to the controversy, and perhaps the worst of all three decisions to go Madrid's way, Vinicius scored with the top of his arm, disallowed by the referee for handball. Replays suggested that the referee was correct and yet, the referee was called to look at the monitor once again and the on-field decision was overturned. Real had an undeserved equaliser.
Real then went on to score a 99th minute winner through Dani Carvajal and the stadium erupted. Almería were clearly incensed at the injustice.
Questions remain over the three VAR decisions which directly helped Real Madrid get 3 points when it should really have been 0. If the decisions had been the other way around, would Real have been penalised in the same way as Almería? Highly doubtful.
Goalscorer Gonzalez said: "This is a competition that should be fair for everyone and sometimes it's hard to see that."
VAR is widely thought to be having a negative impact on football but are we now looking at the effect it can have on the integrity of the game?