Barcelona were shell-shocked by La Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao as they lost 2-1 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey round of 16 encounter.
The first game of the new year didn’t go as planned for the Blaugrana. Despite their opponents being whittled down to nine men after two sending offs, Barcelona failed to snatch victory in their first match of 2017.
Goals from veteran Spaniard Aritz Aduriz and young gun Inaki Williams were enough to put Athletic ahead in the first half itself. A second half consolation goal from Lionel Messi wasn’t enough to spark a comeback, and Barca now have to overturn the deficit in the second leg.
Their arch-rivals Real Madrid faced no such issues, as they stomped their authority on high flying Sevilla with a 3-0 win in their Round of 16 game. James Rodriguez stole the show with two goals, including a penalty.
Veteran Barcelona defender Gerard Pique brought this up after the game, insinuating that referees were far more charitable when it came to Real Madrid.
“The penalty on Neymar was extremely clear and the one that Gorka did to me too,” said Pique after the game, according to Spanish publication Sport.
“But we know how this works already. And we saw what happened yesterday in Sevilla vs Madrid. In line with what’s happened recently. We want to play football and not roulette, which is what this refereeing causes.”
Pique’s comments about refereeing bias aren’t exactly wild claims. Rodriguez’ penalty was a result of a dive by Luka Modric and it was a contentious decision once everyone had a look at the replays.
Interestingly enough, Barcelona themselves have often been accused of enjoying the favour of referees, especially in the Champions League. One of the recent incidents was when Andres Iniesta was not sent off for a blatant hand ball in their Champions League quarter finals against Atletico Madrid last season.
Barcelona are not having the best of seasons. The defeat in the Copa del Rey is the latest set-back in a hitherto dead average campaign. All of that could change very soon with a string of good results though, it’s just that Barcelona are used to dominating from the get go.
The Blaugrana are currently three points behind Real Madrid in the race for La Liga, and face French champions Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.