Raphinha hands 10-man Barcelona narrow win over Valencia

Catalan club made to fight for victory with a number of key players missing

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Barcelona continued their march towards the La Liga title as they clung on with 10 men to beat Valencia 1-0 and extend their lead over Real Madrid at the top of the table on Sunday.

Brazilian winger Raphinha put the Catalans in front in the 16th minute. But after Ferran Torres missed a penalty and Ronald Araujo was sent off, the hosts were left fighting for the three points.

Raphinha nodded a header over the goalkeeper after a brilliant long pass by midfielder Sergio Busquets who spotted the Brazilian winger ghosting behind the defence into the box in the 15th minute.

Barca could have extended their lead in the 55th minute when Torres fired a penalty wide of the goal. Five minutes after that, however, they lost defender Araujo who received a straight red card for a last-man foul on Hugo Duro.

Barca retreated in the final half hour but survived to beat Ruben Baraja's Valencia, who are 19th and two points from safety.

Barcelona's 1-0 Copa del Rey semi-final first-leg triumph over Real Madrid on Thursday followed two consecutive defeats, and Sunday's narrow win was a significant step towards a first league title since 2019.

Without top scorer Robert Lewandowski, midfield stars Pedri and Gavi and winger Ousmane Dembele, the Catalans were unable to play their best football, but did enough to secure victory.

Manager Xavi Hernandez was suspended, too, watching from a box, with his brother and assistant Oscar in the dugout.

Valencia resisted early Barcelona pressure but fell apart when Busquets lofted a pass into the area for Raphinha to meet with a fine run and a header over Giorgi Mamardashvili.

It was Raphinha's fifth league goal of the season and similar to his header against Osasuna which snatched Barcelona a vital win before the World Cup break.

Although the forward has not been consistent since his move from Leeds United last summer, his goals in recent weeks have helped Barca manage in Dembele's absence.

Raphinha fired a free-kick into the wall and curled another effort wide after a fine Alejandro Balde run as Barcelona looked to build on their strong start.

The Brazilian whipped in a cross for Ansu Fati who headed into the ground and off target when he should have tested Mamardashvili.

Valencia could have equalised when Samuel Lino slashed an effort wildly over the bar, with Barcelona's defence caught out for the first time. Former Barcelona youth player Ilaix Moriba stabbed an effort wide towards the end of the first half, as Los Che finally began to gain a foothold in the game.

Early in the second half, Barcelona should have moved two ahead when Hugo Guillamon was penalised for handball.

Torres grabbed the ball to take the penalty, although Fati also wanted it and the pair exchanged words, increasing the pressure on the Spaniard, who hit the post.

Fati struck the post moments later with an effort at the near post, before a mistake from Jules Kounde left Barcelona with 10 men.

The French defender's ill-advised header back towards Marc-Andre ter Stegen sent Hugo Duro through on goal. Araujo dragged down the striker and saw red.

Valencia put pressure on Barcelona without troubling Ter Stegen, who kept his 18th La Liga clean sheet of the season.

The visitors might have been awarded a late penalty when Kessie tangled with Fran Perez, but the referee waved away their desperate appeals.

Valencia were trying to win two in a row after a run of six consecutive losses in all competitions. They came into Camp Nou inside the relegation zone and missing several players because of injury, including veteran striker Edinson Cavani.

It was Valencia’s third game with coach Baraja in charge after he replaced Gennaro Gattuso.

Updated: March 05, 2023, 6:03 PM