Barcelona restored their nine-point lead at the top of La Liga as they edged to a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao. Raphinha’s first-half strike was enough to settle the scores at San Mames, as Xavi’s outfit continue to close in on a first Spanish title since 2018/19.
Both teams played with great intensity and were on the front foot early on, as Ferran Torres and Nico Williams failed to hit the target with shots at either end. Robert Lewandowski then wasted a golden chance for the visitors, as his heavy touch let him down as he steamed through on goal.
That gave Ernesto Valverde’s side a huge lift, and they had a string of opportunities to take the lead, with Inaki Williams denied by Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Raul Garcia rattling the bar. They were made to pay for not being more clinical though, as Raphinha fired Barcelona ahead with a drilled shot into the far corner in first-half injury time.
Lewandowski could have doubled the lead after the break, but he sent a towering header wide from Alejandro Balde’s cross. In truth, though, the second half was played at a much slower pace, with a string of substitutions breaking up the game.
That suited Barcelona, who were happy to sit on their 1-0 lead and take the points. They were susceptible to a sucker punch, which was nearly delivered when Alex Berenguer saw his low shot tipped onto the post.
Ter Stegen came to the rescue once more late on as he superbly denied Iker Muniain, while Barca were left breathing a sigh of relief with Inaki Williams’ goal was ruled out for handball in the closing minutes.
TALKING POINT – Barca’s defence stands strong again
Despite the attacking options they have at their disposal, Barcelona have hardly been blowing teams off the park this season, putting a little extra pressure on their defence.
That back four was once again severely tested here, but they stood strong in racking up an eighth clean sheet in their last 10 league games, keeping tabs on the terrifying pace of the likes of Nico and Williams with incredible ease.
Even when they were beaten, goalkeeper Ter Stegen was in terrific form, making a string of fine saves to protect his clean sheet, and ensure he has still conceded just eight La Liga goals this season.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Alejandro Balde (Barcelona). There are not too many occasions when you could claim a full-back was the most attacking outlet on the pitch, but that was certainly the case of San Mames.
Alejandro Balde caused Athletic Club problems all night with his sheer pace down the left flank, regularly beating his man before whipping dangerous crosses into the box, while he also carried out his defensive duties superbly.
It is hard to believe that he is still only 19, but the youngster, who has already won four caps for Spain, has well and truly made the left-back spot his own in this glittering Barca team.
Image credit: Getty Images
ATHLETIC BILBAO: Agirrezabala 6; De Marcos 6, Vivian 7, Martinez 7, Balenziaga 6; Nico Williams 7, Dani Garcia 6, Raul Garcia 6, Vesga 6, Berenguer 6; Inaki Williams 7. Subs: Zarraga 6, Muniain 7, Berchiche n/a, Capa n/a, Guruzeta n/a
BARCELONA: ter Stegen 8; Roberto 6, Kounde 7, Christensen 7, Balde 8; Gavi 7, Busquets 7, de Jong 6; Raphinha 7, Lewandowski 6, Torres 6. Subs: Kessie 6, Alonso n/a, Fati n/a, Alarcon n/a
33’ OFF THE BAR. Wow, that was incredibly close for the hosts. A terrific header from Raul Garcia near the edge of the six yard box, but it rattles the woodwork. An inch or two lower and that goes in.
45+2’ GOAL! ATHLETIC BILBAO 0-1 BARCELONA (Raphinha). After absorbing all that pressure, Barca have taken the lead! Busquets slides a terrific pass to Raphinha, who emphatically drills into the far corner from inside the box. It was originally flagged offside, but VAR look at it and he’s fine.
72’ BERENGUER RATTLES THE POST. An incisive break down the left flank, with Berenguer breaking into the box and seeing his shot superbly saved by Ter Stegen, who tips the low shot onto the post.
79’ SUPERB TER STEGEN SAVE. Muniain floats across the 18-yard line and makes aim for the far bottom corner, but Ter Stegen is equal to it, diving to his left to superbly tip around the post.
87’ GOAL! ATHLETIC BILBAO 1-1 BARCELONA (Inaki Williams). He hasn’t scored since October, but the drought is over now! The forward breaks through on goal, with his pace taking him away from the defence, before he fires past Ter Stegen.
90’ GOAL RULED OUT! Inaki Williams thinks he’s levelled for the hosts, but it’s ruled out after a long VAR check for handball against Muniain.
90+4’ UNBELIEVABLE! WHAT DEFENDING. That is incredible. Athletic are queuing up to score. They’re smashing the ball goalwards, but it’s twice cleared off the line, including by Kounde. Remarkable and sensational defending.
- Ernesto Valverde has suffered more defeats to Barcelona than any other team during his managerial career – 17
- This was Barcelona’s ninth 1-0 win in the league since the start of October
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