By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
The table, it is often said, never lies; the league, it is claimed, is a measure of consistency over a complete campaign, and the team on top is the deserved leader - later, the champion of merit.
However, such a sweeping statement does not actually tell the whole story. Results are not always fair, but while luck may even itself out for a team over the course of a season, poor refereeing decisions often do not.
This term, following three seasons of Barcelona dominance in La Liga, the tables have turned. In 2011-12, it is Real Madrid and not Barca who are out in front, clear of their fiercest foes by 10 points, a deficit which the Catalans have admitted will be very tough to close - even with 16 rounds of the championship remaining.
Madrid have dropped just eight points in the entire campaign, while Barca have let exactly double  slip away on the road and ceded 18 in total along the way. Even if Pep Guardiola's side win all of their remaining games, it still may not be good enough to secure a fourth straight title success.
Providing Jose Mourinho's Madrid maintain their formidable form, they will be champions in 2011-12. And they will be expected to do so, despite having to visit Camp Nou in late April. Ergo, it is - unbelievably and perhaps even inconceivably at this early stage - almost all over.
But it shouldn't be.
Goal.com takes a look back at the controversial decisions in La Liga this term to establish how the table would look had the correct calls been made by the officials. And it turns out the title race should still be very much alive.
||REAL MADRID | Controversial calls in La Liga
||Madrid 4-2 Getafe|| - Ronaldo awarded penalty at 0-1 when action took place outside the area
Correct score: Madrid 3-2 Getafe
||Levante 1-0 Madrid||- Ballesteros handled in the area at a corner but it should have been a goal kick in the first place
Correct score: Levante 1-0 Madrid
||Madrid 6-2 Rayo
||- Madrid's second goal looked marginally offside
Correct score: Madrid 5-2 Rayo
||Valencia 2-3 Madrid||- Possible penalty for Valencia in the last minute, but the ball hit Higuain on the stomach before the hand
Correct score: Valencia 2-3 Madrid
||Madrid 4-1 Atletico||- Courtois conceded penalty and was sent off with Atletico 1-0 up, but decision looked correct
Correct score: Madrid 4-1 Atletico
||Madrid 1-3 Barcelona||- Both Messi and Coentrao could have been sent off in the December Clasico. Neither were
Correct score: Madrid 1-3 Barcelona
||Mallorca 1-2 Madrid||- Mallorca netted for what should have been 2-0, with offside wrongly called when the pass came from their own half. There were also two fouls in the build-up to Madrid's winner
Correct score: Mallorca 2-1 Madrid
||Madrid 4-1 Athletic||- Kaka went down easily for the penalty which put Madrid 2-1 up, but there was contact. Ramos lucky not to give away penalty at the other end for a stamp in the area and could have been sent off, too
Correct score: Madrid 3-2 Athletic
||Getafe 0-1 Madrid||- Pepe could have given away a penalty for handling in the area, but replays show the action was not deliberate and his hands were going away from ball
Correct score: Getafe 0-1 Madrid
||Madrid 4-1 Levante
||- Iborra unfortunate with the penalty but clumsily handled with both hands, so it was probably the right decision. Unlucky to be shown second yellow, though
Correct score: Madrid 4-1 Levante
Mourinho's marauding Madrid have lost just twice all season and drawn only once, winning their remaining 19 matches to top La Liga with a hugely impressive 58 points from a possible 66. But the capital club have seen decisions go their way at key times this season.
In the second round of matches, Mourinho's men found themselves a goal down to city rivals Getafe. Looking lacklustre, they were awarded a penalty as Cristiano Ronaldo went down - rather easily - in an action which took place outside the box. Cristiano converted and Madrid won 4-2 in the end. They may have done anyway and this analysis remains hypothetical, but a helping hand from the officials has been there for Real on numerous occasions in 2011-12.
There was another contentious penalty in Madrid's match at home to Levante in the last round of La Liga, with Vicente Iborra penalised - and given his marching orders - for a handball in the area, which allowed the home side to overturn an early deficit and stroll to a 4-1 success.
There were also two penalties in the 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao, plus another in the same scoreline at home to Atletico Madrid. In both games, Madrid had gone behind and struggled to settle. The decisions, however, appeared correct.
Perhaps more controversial are the penalties not conceded at the other end. Pepe's handball at Getafe in a recent 1-0 win looked deliberate at first glance, as did Gonzalo Higuain's in the dying seconds of a 3-2 victory at Valencia. Neither, however, were deliberate, and it was more of a case of ball-to-hand than hand-to-ball. In Higuain's case, the ball actually impacted onto his arm after hitting his stomach. They were not the clear penalties that they had looked.
Where Madrid did get extremely lucky, however, was away to Mallorca. A goal down and playing poorly, Victor raced clear and finished [albeit after the flag had been raised] clinically for what should have been 2-0, but saw his effort erroneously ruled out for offside as he had ran from his own half. Mourinho's men went on to win, but only after a clear foul by Karim Benzema in the build-up to Jose Callejon's controversial clincher. It finished 2-1 and that was the right scoreline - but it should have been the other way around.
Former Primera Division official Sergi Albert told Goal.com: "Pepe's handball was involuntary. If you look at it, he has his hands in a normal position and when the ball makes impact, his hand stays still. That movement tells you whether it is deliberate or not. With Higuain, the ball hits his stomach first. But where Madrid have been lucky this season is in not having players sent off and it is worrying that some referees turn actions which deserve to be red cards into yellows. Mourinho [with his constant criticism of officials last year] has 'ensured' that his team now do not get players sent off - and that's a big advantage. When players like Sergio Ramos, Pepe or Sami Khedira are not sent off, they don't miss games and that works in Madrid's favour."
|BARCELONA | Controversial calls in La Liga|
||Valencia 2-2 Barca|| - Messi should have had two penalties, and the first at 1-1 would have seen Rami sent off
Correct score: Valencia 2-4 Barcelona
||Sporting 0-1 Barca||- Messi should have had another penalty in this match, which Barca won anyway
Correct score: Sporting 0-2 Barcelona
||Getafe 1-0 Barca||- Barca goal disallowed right at the end for offside against Keita, when the ball had come from a Getafe player and not the Malian
Correct score: Getafe 1-1 Barca
||Barca 5-0 Levante||- Iniesta strike disallowed in the last minute for offside when the ball had come from a Levante player
Correct score: Barca 6-0 Levante
||Espanyol 1-1 Barca||- Barca should have had a penalty in the last minute as Raul Rodriguez handled Pedro's shot
Correct score: Espanyol 1-2 Barca
|Matchday 16||Villarreal 0-0 Barca||- Busquets could have given away a penalty for a push on Valero; likewise Gonzalo on Alexis
Correct score: Villarreal 1-1 Barca
||Osasuna 3-2 Barca
||- Alexis ruled offside for what would have been 1-1 early on; Lekic offside as Osasuna made it 2-0
Correct score: Osasuna 2-3 Barca
So while Madrid have been fairly fortunate with officials in La Liga this term, Barcelona have had more than their fair share of disappointing decisions in 2011-12.
The Catalans saw their league hopes all but ended in Pamplona last weekend, losing 3-2 to Osasuna in a far-from-convincing display which saw Guardiola's team selection questioned. Barca played poorly, particularly in the first half, but Alexis Sanchez was ruled offside as he looked to level early on, while Dejan Lekic's second strike for 2-0 should have been chalked off by the assistant referee. Barca went in 2-0 down and ultimately were unable to recover as they lost 3-2. But it should have been 1-1 and game on at the interval. Alexis saw another effort disallowed late on, although that decision looked right as the Chilean was in an offside position as Sergi Roberto flicked the ball on. With the correct calls, however, Barca would have won, not lost.
It was only Barca's second league loss of the entire campaign. In truth, though, the Catalans should still be unbeaten, because their only previous reverse came with controversy, too. A 1-0 defeat at Getafe should actually have been a 1-1 draw because Lionel Messi converted in the final minute, only to see his effort ruled out for a nonexistent offside against Seydou Keita, when the ball had actually come from a rival player anyway and not via the Malian midfielder.
Elsewhere, Guardiola's side were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty right at the end of the derby draw at Espanyol, when Raul Rodriguez handled Pedro's stinging shot. And the Catalans were also denied two spot kicks in the 2-2 tie at Valencia earlier on in the campaign, with the first in particular looking like a clear penalty as Messi went down under a reckless challenge from Adil Rami, who should have been sent off, too.
Former Primera Division official Sergi Albert told Goal.com: "Barcelona have been awarded fewer penalties than Madrid this season, it's true, but Madrid play with a more direct style and I have the impression that they spend more time in the area than Barca. The incorrect offside decision against Getafe and the handball at Espanyol are very difficult for an official to see at first glance as the action takes place so quickly, so those calls are understandable, but the linesman must take responsibility for what happened at Osasuna. The referee relies on his assistant in those situations and the linesman was not up with the play. That's unacceptable - if he can't keep up with the play he should go and be an atomic biologist or something."
|Madrid & Barca - Official La Liga table
As things stand, Madrid hold a 10-point lead over Barca after 22 rounds of matches, as can be seen above, with Mourinho's men boasting a much more impressive win ratio than their greatest rivals, while both sides have lost two games in the championship so far.
But below, with incorrect decisions taken into account, the table tells a very different story, with Madrid marginally ahead [with three points less] and Barca better off [with four more].
|Madrid & Barca - What the table should look like...
Quite different, isn't it? So while Madrid's fantastic form should be praised in what has been an imperious second season for Mourinho's men in La Liga, the capital club can count themselves lucky to be 10 points clear in the title race, while Barca - although a level below their brilliant best in 2011-12 - are actually in superior shape than is reflected by the league standings.
Sometimes, it turns out, the table does lie.
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