Soccer Football - LaLiga - Real Madrid v Almeria - Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - January 21, 2024
Real Madrid's Jude Bellingham celebrates their third goal scored by Dani Carvajal REUTERS/Isabel Infantes
Real Madrid had to come from two goals behind to win against Almería.

Playing poorly but somehow – any way possible – finding a way to win has been a key feature of Real Madrid’s season so far, and the team’s latest escape act, a 3-2 win at home to last-placed Almería, was its most important yet.

Trailing 2-0 at half-time to Largie Ramazani’s goal inside 40 seconds and Edgar González’s stunning volley, Real needed a helping hand in the second half – and it got three through the video assistant referee (VAR).

First, referee Francisco Hernández Maeso awarded Real a penalty for a handball offense by Almería defender Kaiky Fernandes Melo after a VAR review, despite Los Blancos forward Joselu appearing to climb over his back in an attempt to reach the ball.

Jude Bellingham stepped up to convert the spot kick and halve Almería’s lead.

Then, Hernández Maeso ruled out what appeared to be a legitimate Almería goal after Bellingham went down clutching his face in agony in another VAR intervention. While replays showed midfielder Dion Lopy raised his hand to hold off the English star, contact was minimal and the decision to rule out the goal and sanction Lopy with a yellow card seemed harsh.

Soon after, the Merengues found an equalizer after the ball bounced into the net via what VAR replays showed to be the upper part of Vinícius Jr.’s right arm, but the goal was allowed to stand.

Almería’s misery was then compounded in the ninth minute of stoppage time when Dani Carvajal popped up the penalty area to score the winning goal and complete the comeback.

All three of the major VAR incidents left Almería – rock bottom of La Liga and without a win all season – feeling aggrieved at the full-time result.

Soccer Football - LaLiga - Real Madrid v Almeria - Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - January 21, 2024
        Almeria's Largie Ramazani celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS/Isabel Infantes
Largie Ramazani gave Almería the lead inside 40 seconds.

“We leave with the feeling that the match was robbed today, it’s that clear,” midfielder Gonzalo Melero told reporters after the match. “I don’t think anything more could have been done to help get them into the game.

“The penalty, the goal with [Vinícius’] hand that makes a motion, the disallowed goal for a duel. If we want to be the best league in the world, like has been mentioned a lot, we are light years away.

“It’s difficult for me to say that and it pisses me off.”

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, while somehow keeping a straight face, told reporters he thought “the right decisions were made.”

“Everyone has their own opinion,” he added. “I say what I’ve seen. Almería played very well, but if you look at the three decisions, they were correct. I’m ready to hear that we won because of VAR.”

TOPSHOT - Real Madrid's Brazilian forward #07 Vinicius Junior celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and UD Almeria at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on January 21, 2024. (Photo by Pierre-Philippe MARCOU / AFP) (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images)
Vinicius’ goal was allowed to stand despite the ball hitting his arm.

It was a particularly huge win given surprise title rival Girona picked up an impressive 5-1 win over Sevilla later on Sunday, ensuring Real stays just a point behind with a game in hand.

The title race continues next weekend when Real Madrid travels to Las Palmas and Girona faces Celta Vigo.