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Barça lament referees revolt ahead of Clásico clash

Those who are still dipping their pinkies into the steamy waters of La Liga may not be aware of exactly what the 'Villarato' is.

This term - oft-used in Spanish football - was coined by Madrid-based daily newspaper AS to describe an imaginary conspiracy said to have been cooked up by FA President Angel Villar, Barcelona and the country's referees to make sure that all decisions went in the Catalan club's favour and against Real Madrid. 

Apparently, the 'Villarato' is no more. Instead, the 'Anti-Villarato' is in play, as demonstrated by the failure to award Barça a late penalty for hand-ball in last week's derby clash against Espanyol, and the booking of Andrés Iniesta for a dive when another penalty was probably the right decision.

"There are times when the referees are against us," moaned Xavi ahead of Wednesday's Clásico. "I have the feeling that this year they are against us more than other teams." Even AS Editor Alfredo Relaño thinks the tide has turned in the refereeing stakes. "Before, everything was going one way, not any more," was the happy-clappy message in Tuesday's editorial.

This is just a sample of a mixed bag of pre-Clásico rumblings ahead of a game nobody is completely sure whether or not to bother taking seriously.

Josep María Casanovas in Sport perhaps best describes the importance of the two Copa del Rey games in terms of what it means to the title race, in which Real Madrid currently hold a five point lead. "Knocking the league leaders out of the cup would be a decisive injection of morale for Barça."

Still, this thoughtful analysis hasn't stopped the Sport man's colleague, Lluís Mascaró, launching into another of his trademark 'good vs evil' rants.

"After seeing the sad performance of Mourinho in Mallorca, no-one can doubt that Madrid will lose points. Not even the help of the refs (anti-Villarato) can stop such a vulgar team falling to any rival that plays with intensity and ambition," rants Mascaró on sides like Espanyol, Getafe and Real Sociedad, three teams who have managed to stop Barcelona in their tracks this season.

Over in Mordor, AS are claiming that "Barcelona are afraid of [José Manuel] Pinto", reporting that supporters would rather have Víctor Valdés in goal than their back-up net-tender and designated cup game keeper. The Barça press may well argue that Real Madrid are afraid of Messi, Alexis, Cesc, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Piqué, Alves and Abidal, given only one of the eight Clásicos between Mourinho and Guardiola have been won by Madrid.

While the first of a possible eight Clásicos in 2012 kicks off on Wednesday night in the Santiago Bernabeu, the first of the cup quarter-finals will actually take place in Barcelona, 24 hours earlier, with third-tier Mirandés facing Espanyol on Tuesday evening. "Mission impossible," claims Carlos Pouso, the Mirandés manager whose team received a special birthday treat by flying to the game on a big silver sky demon never before seen by most of the side's players.

Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, is doing the humble, respectful routine ahead of a clash against a side that have already knocked out Villarreal and Racing in this season's competition. "It's a team who have eliminated two Primera clubs. One can catch you by surprise, if it happens a second time and it's a knock-out then they have good reasons for being here," warned the Espanyol boss.