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VAR controversially helps Barcelona beat Bilbao, but Barca’s historic defense is undeniable

raphinha provided a winning goal for the second week in a row as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao in another 1-0 win, this time at San Mamés on Sunday, despite some final dramas like Inaki Williams He had the tie annulled by VAR.

Williams thought he had earned a point for the home team in the 87th minute only because his effort was disallowed following a fieldside review for a hand ball from Iker Muniain in the construction.

from Bilbao Yuri Berchiche and Gorka Guruzeta They then had great chances to equalize in added time, but Barca held on thanks to Raphinha’s ninth goal in all competitions this season.

The team coached by Xavi Hernández maintains, therefore, its nine-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga for next weekend the classic at the Camp Nou.

quick reaction

1. VAR decision gives Barcelona three vital points

There was already a fierce atmosphere in San Mamés on Sunday after a week in which Spanish prosecutors brought charges against Barcelona for trying to buy the referees’ favour, something the club vehemently denies. In the 30th minute, the Athletic fans threw counterfeit bills with the Barça shield and the word “mafia” onto the pitch and chanted “A second division”.

That was nothing compared to the beeps that greeted the final whistle after the big VAR decision of the game went against Athletic.

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Williams beat Barcelona on a ball from above and fired Marc-André ter Stegen for what appeared to be a well-executed draw. At first nothing seemed to be wrong, but referee Gil Manzano was soon advised to review the play again. Upon review, he disallowed the goal out for a handball by Munian at the other end of the field in the sequence in which Barcelona Frenkie de Jong lost the ball

Even so, Athletic could still have gotten a point. Berchiche and Guruzeta saw shots blocked on the line in a frantic end to the game. Previously, Alex Berenguer and Raul Garcia Both had hit the Athletic Bilbao post and Ter Stegen saved Muniain and Williams.

Coach Ernesto Valverde’s team will have to recover quickly. Athletic Club is still in the fight for a European place despite a run of five games without a win in all competitions and is in the semifinal of the Copa del Rey.

2. Barcelona’s clean sheet boosts title fight ahead of El Clásico

There was an element of luck in Barca’s last clean sheet on Sunday, but their numbers over the course of the season are no fluke.

They have now had 19 shutouts in 25 league games, more than any team in Europe’s top five leagues this season. In total, they have conceded just eight LaLiga goals, an all-time low for this stage of the season in the Spanish top flight.

However, this may have been his closest shave yet. Athletic’s 15 shots were the second most allowed by Barça this season (Atlético de Madrid achieved 20 in January) and forced goalkeeper Ter Stegen to be, once again, at his best level. Ter Stegen has already equaled his league best 19 clean sheets in a single season, with 13 more games to play this season. defenders andreas christensen, Jules Konde and Alejandro Balde also made important contributions at various times.

Clean sheets have meant that Barca have not always had to excel in attack, and one goal is often enough. They have now won 1-0 nine times in LaLiga this season, and that means they will have a nine-point cushion when Madrid visit next week. A win in El Clásico would leave them very close to their first league title since 2019.

3. Raphinha delivering in the absence of Dembélé

raphinha He has often received criticism in his first season at Barcelona, ​​but now he earns it regularly.

His goal against Athletic came fresh from his winning goal in a 1-0 win against Valencia last weekend. Now there are five goals in their last 10 games since Ousmane Dembele got injured

With Dembélé out, as well as Pedrois raphinha thinking about the key moments. While Robert Lewandowski missed a one-on-one early and sent a wide header later, the Brazilian converted his one big chance.

Now he has nine goals and nine assists in all competitions with Barça. What’s more, he has eight goals in his last 20 games after starting the season with one goal in 17 games.

Best and worst performers

Best: Raphinha, Barcelona

Goal scorer for the second week in a row and also tireless in his defensive commitment.

Best: Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona

The goalkeeper made a series of good saves to give his team all three points.

Best: Alejandro Balde, Barcelona

Dangerous in attack and alert in defence, especially when the rhythm Nico Williams passed by.

Worst: Robert Lewandowski, Barcelona

He received a hard touch when De Jong passed him in the first half, wasting the chance, and then headed in a deflected cross from Balde after the break.

Worst: Mikel Balenziaga, Athletic Club

The 35-year-old struggled at times against Raphinha and was removed in the second half.

The worst: Iker Muniain, Athletic Club

He rebounded from the bench but saw an opportunity saved by Ter Stegen and it was his hand that canceled out his team’s late goal.

Highlights and Highlights

Athletic Bilbao was not exempt from chances, but you have to love Gavi’s commitment with his intervention in the 23rd minute.

Now that’s using your head!

Anyway, you probably just want to watch Raphina’s goal, right? ESPN FC’s social media accounts had highlights in real time:

It appeared Bilbao scored an equalizer, which would have ended Barcelona’s impressive defensive run, but a lengthy VAR check resulted in the goal being disallowed.

Replays showed Iker Muniain’s arm touched the ball as Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong lost possession in midfield, prompting a Bilbao counter-attack on the other side.

After the game: what the coaches said

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández on the result:It is true that we have to play better, but this is a difficult place to get to. It is normal to suffer in San Mamés. But it is a vital victory. We knew it would be a tough game away from home.”

Hernández on the demonstration of the crowd during the match: Respect to the fans of San Mamés. They have always treated me well. I was surprised by the hostile environment towards Barça. It was sad to see. I don’t think it’s good for society. Everyone is free to (express their opinion) and I respect all opinions, whether I agree or not, but it made me sad.”

The Athletic Club coach, Ernesto Valverde, on the disallowed goal: “I see the images and I don’t know. It’s a question of what is football and what is not. I think the VAR is there to correct flagrant errors. That’s why it came in. Big mistakes. Balls that went in or not”. Call the referee to see if he touches (a hand) or not… I don’t know if that belongs to the world of football. Another day will happen to another team.”

Key statistics (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

  • Barcelona’s nine 1-0 wins this season extend the club’s record for most in a single LaLiga season (the most by any team in a single season is 11 by Atlético 2017-18, Sevilla 2020- 21 and Valencia 1988-89).

  • This was the second time Raphinha had scored in back-to-back games for Barcelona in all competitions. He has eight goals in his last 20 games after starting the season with one goal in 17 games.

  • Raphinha’s nine goals tie for the second most in a single career season (all competitions).

  • Athletic Club’s 15 shots tie for the second most by any team against Barcelona in LaLiga (20 from Atlético Madrid on February 8 is the most). Barcelona has kept to zero in seven of the eight games that have allowed the most shots this season in LaLiga.

Until next time

Athletic Club: Bilbao will travel to Valladolid for the LaLiga match on Friday, March 17 against Real Valladolid (stream live on ESPN+ at 4 pm ET).

Barcelona: Barça has a big upcoming event: another edition of the classic against their rival Real Madrid on Sunday March 19 (stream live on ESPN+ at 4 pm ET). Although Barcelona are several points clear in the LaLiga standings, this derby against second-placed Real Madrid could have major implications for the title fight.