There's no hiding it, Piqué: Barça have themselves to blame

It all began with the Rodrigo Moreno goal disallowed at the Di Stéfano because of Maxi Gómez, who was standing in an offside position and was deemed to be getting in Raphaël Varane’s way. That led Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué to make insinuations that did not require great intelligence to decipher. Piqué has taken over from ex-Barça president Joan Gaspart as the sniper-in-chief at all things Real Madrid, and he carries out the role with equal verve and greater wit. And when it comes to deflecting attention from your own failings, what better plan than to point to Real Madrid and refereeing decisions in their favour? That’s a seed that tends to flower in full bloom in Spain. Never more so than on this occasion.

Barcelona have lost top spot because they have played badly - and Piqué's comments seek to mask that

Because the conditions have been ideal since then. In San Sebastián, there were three incidents that ex-ref Eduardo Iturralde calls ‘grey areas’. Against Getafe, there was the penalty awarded to Madrid and the spot-kick not given against Dani Carvajal. And at San Mamés, the stamp that was a penalty and the stamp that wasn’t. Nothing scandalous, but several borderline incidents which went Madrid's way every time, sparking a wave of internet memes depicting Florentino Pérez as the VAR puppet master. He won’t care: the more power he’s thought to have, the more he actually will have. But Madrid are not top because they’ve won seven games, although it’s clearly played its part; they’re top because Barça have drawn three.

By sowing the seed of suspicion against Madrid and the referees, Piqué has sought to mask the fact that Barça have come up short. If they had played as well in their previous games as they did against Villarreal, they’d still be leaders today. But they played badly. And, by the way, they have themselves hardly been bereft of luck in the VAR lottery. Just by having Leo Messi sent off against Athletic, they would have faced tremendous problems that night and in the two games after that. But Piqué was cute enough to plant a seed in soil that is always fertile, and the subsequent storms have allowed it to flower. Madrid are steaming inexorably to the title, but it is a triumph that will go down among so-inclined opponents as the result of a refereeing conspiracy. Just like many more before the days of VAR.