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Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Barcelona: Xavi's men restore nine-point lead
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Ryan Benson
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Raphinha got Barcelona's winning goal at San Mames
Raphinha got Barcelona's winning goal at San Mames

A late VAR reprieve ensured Barcelona clung on to a slender 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao as Raphinha continued his impressive form to restore the Blaugrana's nine-point lead at the summit.

Barca looked to have been pegged back by a dramatic Inaki Williams equaliser but it was disallowed for handball and Xavi's side just about held on in the face of intense pressure.

The visitors had to weather a storm in the first half as well, making the most of their survival on the stroke of half-time when the in-form Raphinha struck.

Williams' disallowed goal was then followed by more late chances for Athletic but the hosts' efforts amounted to nothing as Barca got one over former coach Ernesto Valverde.

The Blaugrana were fortunate to come through Athletic's promising first-half spell.

Alex Berenguer prodded just off target after Jules Kounde misjudged the bounce of the ball and Marc-Andre ter Stegen came to the rescue a few minutes later, turning Williams' strike around the post.

Raul Garcia's diving header from the resulting corner hit the crossbar and Barca capitalised just before the break.

Sergio Busquets cleverly sidestepped a defender and found Raphinha in the right side of the box, with the Brazilian firing into the bottom-far corner.

A generally cagier second half came to life in the final 20 minutes.

After Berenguer hit the post, Williams had seemingly secured Athletic a point with an emphatic finish having been played through on goal, only for it to be wiped out for handball by Iker Muniain in the build-up.

Nico Williams then failed to convert a tap-in, and Yuri Berchiche saw his follow-up cleared off the line as Barca somehow escaped San Mames with the points.

What does it mean? Barca embracing the luck of champions

It was fairly remarkable that Barca managed to hold on to victory here. Even if you ignore the disallowed goal, Athletic ended up having a stack of chances.

On another day, Garcia's header and Berenguer's shot squeeze just inside the frame of the goal, or Nico Williams does not somehow send a tap-in away from goal.

There have been many examples of Barcelona churning out results without playing particularly well, but this has to be up there with the most fortunate – you need a bit of luck along the way if you are going to win the title.

Raphinha hushing the doubters

After his big-money move from Leeds United, it took Raphinha a little while to find his feet, having a hand in just four goals across his first 15 LaLiga games.

But in the past couple of months his influence in attack as improved significantly. In all competitions, he has played a part in 12 goals in 2023 alone — Karim Benzema (14) and Vinicius Junior (13) are the only LaLiga players who can better that.

Rusty Lewandowski

Barca's Polish striker did not look himself on Sunday. He had four shots and got only one of those on target, but the disappointing nature of his performance was not just about his accuracy.

In the early stages he saw a great opportunity go to waste because of a heavy touch, and he found it difficult to hold off Inigo Martinez.

What's next?

It is the big one for Barca next Sunday — they host Real Madrid in the final Clasico of the season. Athletic go to Real Valladolid on Friday.


LaLigaBarcelonaAthletic Bilbao
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