Soccer

Pique and Ramos in spat as title race heats up in Spain

  • Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos celebrates victory at the end the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Ceramica Stadium in Villarreal, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Jose Miguel Fernandez)

    Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos celebrates victory at the end the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Ceramica Stadium in Villarreal, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Jose Miguel Fernandez)  (The Associated Press)

  • Atletico de Madrid's Filipe Luis, right, duels for the ball with Barcelona's Gerard Pique during a Spain's La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

    Atletico de Madrid's Filipe Luis, right, duels for the ball with Barcelona's Gerard Pique during a Spain's La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)  (The Associated Press)

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique thinks Real Madrid is being helped by the referees.

Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos thinks Pique should mind his own business.

The players got into a little spat after the weekend games in the Spanish league, each defending his club as the title race heats up.

Pique helped Barcelona earn a difficult 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid on Sunday, then watched Madrid erase a two-goal deficit in a controversial 3-2 win at Villarreal, which complained of the refereeing.

Pique hinted on social media that Madrid was being benefited, posting stories mentioning refereeing mistakes that went against Barcelona and some that favored Madrid.

"Against the same teams, eight points," he wrote, making an apparent reference to the difference in points caused by the alleged mistakes in games involving Madrid and Barcelona.

He made sure the stories came from media outlets in Madrid to "leave no doubt" about the claims.

Barcelona, seeking its third straight league title, is one point behind Madrid after 24 rounds. Madrid has a game in hand, at Celta Vigo.

The stories posted by Pique mention a goal he scored but was mistakenly disallowed for offside, and a Ramos goal that was not annulled even though he was offside.

Ramos said the accusation was expected from the outspoken Pique.

"It would surprise me if it came from (Lionel) Messi," Ramos said. "But from Pique, we already know him, we won't get caught up in that. We will mind our own business, which is to win every match and secure the league title.

"Everyone has to stick to their own problems. Fortunately we only depend on ourselves. We are focused on improving and on doing what we have to do."

It's not the first time Pique publicly showed his frustration with the referees in Spain.

Last month, after a penalty kick not awarded to Barcelona against Villarreal, he pointed his finger at the VIP box and yelled toward officials before leaving the field, apparently targeting Spanish league president Javier Tebas. Pique also complained after Barcelona's loss at Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey.

The most controversial play on Sunday was the penalty call that led to Cristiano Ronaldo's equalizer in Villarreal. The ball hit the hand of Bruno Soriano inside the area, but the midfielder claimed it was involuntary.

"I can't just cut my arm off," Soriano said.

Villarreal president Fernando Roig added fuel to the controversy by complaining the officiating crew left the stadium carrying Real Madrid bags. Madrid, like many other clubs, is known to hand out small gifts such as key chains, pins and pens to the referees and their assistants after matches.

"The referees try to be fair and sometimes they'll benefit you and sometimes they'll hurt you," Ramos said.

Madrid is trying to win its first league title since 2012.

Barcelona, which has lifted three league trophies since then, trailed Madrid by as many as six points this season.

Third-place Sevilla, seeking its first league title since 1946, is three points off the lead. Fourth-place Atletico, which last won the league in 2014, is 10 points behind its city rival.

"Whoever thinks that Barcelona will throw in the towel and that Madrid has already won it with nine or 10 rounds to go, doesn't know a lot of football," Ramos said. "It's going to be very difficult."

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