Scandals

MADRID (AP), — Barcelona is ignoring the distractions from its latest scandal by playing well and winning big matches.

Barcelona won its second victory over Real Madrid in three weeks. This made it clear that there is more talk about Barcelona’s ability on the field than about Real Madrid’s apparent problems away from the field.

The payments of millions of dollars to the former vice-president of the country’s refereeing board have been under scrutiny by the Catalan club. After being formally charged by prosecutors with corruption, fraud management and falsification documentation, the club will have to defend its rights in court.

Barcelona is holding its ground on the field though. It rallied to win 2-1 over Madrid on Sunday to secure its first Spanish league title since 2018. The victory, coming on a stoppage-time winner by Franck Kessie after Madrid took an early lead at the Camp Nou, gave Barcelona a more-than-comfortable 12-point lead over its rival with 12 games left.

“It was a happy locker-room,” Barcelona coach Xavi stated. “We must remember where we came from. Last year, the gap between Madrid and us was 12 points. But we were still behind. We were three points behind Madrid in October, so we gained 15 points to Madrid. This club is doing a great job.

Madrid is one of the clubs that sided against Barcelona in the legal proceedings. The Spanish government, league, and soccer federation are also involved. Barcelona has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and conflict of interest, claiming it paid for technical reports about referees, but never tried to influence their decisions during games.

Madrid did not leave Camp Nou complaining about refereeing. However, Marco Asensio’s 81-minute goal was disallowed after video review in an offside call. Carlo Ancelotti, Madrid coach, said that the offside was not clear enough to be overturned.

Barcelona was already saved by the VAR last Saturday when Athletic Bilbao’s equalizer, was called back following a controversial handball during the buildup to Inaki Williams’ 87th minute goal.

Despite recent assistance, Barcelona has been playing well and finding ways to win even when the team isn’t at its best or dealing with injuries such as those to Ousmane Dembele, Robert Lewandowski, and Pedri.

Barcelona is chasing its first league title since being caught in a financial crisis that saw Lionel Messi leave for Paris Saint-Germain. It is chasing a 27th league trophy which would make it eight points behind Madrid.

Through 2019, Barcelona won eight league titles. It finished second to Madrid in 2020, third to champion Atletico Madrid in 2021, and again second to Madrid last season without Messi.

It has won the Spanish Super Cup this year — the team’s first trophy since 2021 Copa del Rey. The Catalan club was evicted from the Champions League and Europa League, but it is still alive in the Copa. Madrid will face it in the semifinals. It has won the first leg 1-0 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, after another solid performance. Next month, Camp Nou will host the return leg.

Barcelona will need to achieve another major result in order to keep the spotlight on Xavi and not the club’s off-the field problems.

“We have not won the Super Cup yet,” Xavi stated. “The league is ours.” We cannot relax. We hope that the players will return from the international break well.”

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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