Raphinha header helps 10-man Barca to nervy Valencia win
Barcelona, with 10 players, beat Valencia 1-0 and were 10 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga on Sunday thanks to Rafinha’s early header.
The Brazilian winger nodded to the Catalans ahead in the 16th minute. But after Ferran Torres missed a penalty and Ronald Araujo was sent off, the hosts had to struggle for three points.
Barça retreated in the last half hour after Araujo’s red card in the 59th minute, but survived to beat Rubén Baraja’s Valencia, who are in 19th place and two points behind safety.
Barcelona’s 1-0 semi-final win over Real Madrid in the first leg of the Copa del Rey on Thursday followed two defeats in a row, and the small victory seemed like a big step towards their first league title since 2019.
Real Betis could close the gap to seven points later, but hoped an exhausted Barcelona would stumble at the Camp Nou.
Without top scorer Robert Lewandowski, midfield masters Pedri and Gavi and winger Ousmane Dembele, the Catalans couldn’t play their best football but did enough to win.
Coach Javi Hernandez was also suspended, watching the match from the box, while his brother and assistant Oscar were in the dugout.
Valencia resisted pressure from Barcelona early on but failed when Sergio Busquets sent a pass into the box for Rafinha, who deftly cleared Giorgi Mamardashvili and headed the ball.
It was Rafinha’s fifth league goal of the season, similar to his header against Osasuna that gave Barcelona a vital victory before the World Cup break.
While the striker hasn’t always shined since his move from Leeds United last summer, his goals in recent weeks have helped Barca deal with Dembele’s absence.
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Rafinha shot a free kick into the wall and shot wide again after a great run by Alejandro Balde as Barcelona looked to build on their strong start.
Staying in the spotlight, the Brazilian crossed Ansu Fati, who head-butted into the ground and missed when he was supposed to check Mamardashvili.
Valencia could have equalized when Samuel Lino landed a sharp shot over the bar and Barcelona’s defense was trapped for the first time.
Former Barcelona youth player Ilaix Moriba struck late in the first half as Los Che finally began to gain ground in the game.
At the start of the second half, Barcelona were about to take a two lead when Hugo Guillamón was penalized for handballing.
Torres intercepted the ball to take a penalty, although Fati wanted it too, and the pair exchanged words, increasing the pressure on the Spaniard, who hit the post.
Moments later, Fati hit the post with a near post effort before Jules Kunde’s error left Barcelona with 10 players.
A reckless header from the French defender towards Marc-André ter Stegen sent Hugo Duro on goal. Ronald Araujo pulled the striker and saw red.
Valencia put pressure on Barcelona without bothering Ter Stegen, who kept his 18th La Liga clean sheet of the season.
Guests could get a late penalty when Cassie collided with Fran Perez, but the referee rejected their desperate and not unfounded appeals.