Refereeing criticism increases as Madrid nears Spanish title

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Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos, right, scores the opening goal from a penalty shoot during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Athletic Club and Real Madrid at the San Manes stadium in Bilbao, Spain, Sunday, July 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

MADRID – The closer Real Madrid gets to the Spanish league title, the stronger the accusations it is benefiting from the referees.

Its opponents are not holding back, and Madrid has heard enough.

“I’m tired of always talking about the same thing,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said after the 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. “It seems like we only win thanks to the referees, and that’s not true. Real Madrid and its players deserve respect.”

The victory kept Madrid as the only team with a perfect record since the restart. It was the team’s seventh straight win since the league resumed, leaving it four points ahead of second-place Barcelona with four matches left.

When asked if Madrid was in the lead only thanks to VAR, Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu didn't do much to dismiss the insinuation.

“Our results haven’t been good, obviously, but it’s true that in many games VAR hasn’t been fair and has always favored one team,” Bartomeu said after the team’s 4-1 win at Villarreal later Sunday. “Many teams are being hurt by this.”

Madrid’s win over Athletic came with a controversial 73rd-minute penalty awarded by video review after left back Marcelo was stepped on by a defender inside the area.

It was the latest in a series of VAR decisions that have gone Madrid’s way following the break caused by the coronavirus pandemic.