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La Liga: Raphinha on target as Barcelona down Athletic Bilbao

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Athletic Bilbao 0 1 Barca
Barcelona players celebrating a goal in the match. | PHOTO: Sky |
  • Athletic club Bilbao played host to Barcelona in La Liga on Sunday evening
  • Barcelona headed into the match with a six-point lead at the top of the table and seek to make it nine
  • A sole goal from Raphinha and a VAR intervention made Barcelona go nine points clear at the top of La Liga

Raphinha maintained his impressive form to help Barcelona hold on to a narrow 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao thanks to a late VAR reprieve. This restored the Blaugrana’s nine-point advantage at the top of the table.

Inaki Williams’ dramatic equalizer appeared to have given Barca the lead, but it was overturned for handball, and Xavi’s team barely held out under heavy duress.

The guests had to persevere through adversity in the first half as well, but they made the most of it when the in-form Raphinha scored right before the break.

More late opportunities for Athletic followed Williams’ disallowed goal, but their efforts were in vain as Barca defeated former coach Ernesto Valverde.

Lucky for the Blaugrana, Athletic’s encouraging first-half run was short-lived.

Jules Kounde misjudged the ball’s bounce, allowing Alex Berenguer to poke just wide of the goal. A few minutes later, Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved the day by deflecting a Williams shot around the frame.

Following the resulting corner, Raul Garcia’s diving header struck the crossbar, and Barca took advantage just before halftime.

In the right side of the box, Raphinha was discovered by Sergio Busquets after the Spanish player deftly avoided a defender. Raphinha then fired into the bottom-left corner.

Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Barcelona

Barcelona forward Raphinha celebrates after scoring the winner against Athletic Bilbao in La Liga on Sunday, March 12 2023. | PHOTO; La Liga |

The closing 20 minutes of a generally cagier second half came to life.

Williams appeared to have earned Athletic a point with an impressive finish after Berenguer struck the post, but it was overturned for handball by Iker Muniain in the buildup.

After that, Nico Williams’ tap-in attempt was unsuccessful, and Yuri Berchiche’s ensuing shot was blocked off the line as Barcelona managed to leave San Mames with a point.

Barcelona embracing Champions behaviour

That Barca was able to maintain its win in this situation was pretty amazing. Athletic ultimately had a ton of opportunities, even if you disregard the goal that was disallowed.

On another day, Nico Williams does not manage to drive a tap-in away from goal, and Garcia’s header and Berenguer’s shot do not narrowly miss the goal frame.

There have been many instances of Barcelona producing results without playing especially well, but this has to rank among the luckiest cases because winning the championship requires some good fortune along the way.

Raphinha quiets the sceptics

Raphinha needed some time to settle in after making the expensive switch from Leeds United, contributing to just four goals in his first 15 La Liga games.

But in the past couple of months his influence in attack has 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 La Liga players who can better that.

Next Sunday is a big day for Barcelona as they face Real Madrid in the season’s final Clasico. On Friday, Athletic travels to Real Valladolid.

 

Nathan Sialah is a journalist by profession with interest in politics, sports, cryptocurrency and human interests with 5 years experience in Radio and Digital Journalism. This has helped Sialah develop a responsible approach to any task he undertakes or any situation that he is presented with.

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