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Three talking points from Athletic Club 0-1 Barcelona

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Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona restored their nine-point lead over Real Madrid with a hard-fought win over Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Club on Sunday night, courtesy of a stunning goal from Raphinha.

VAR was involved in both awarding Barcelona their goal and disallowing the Basque side a late equaliser scored by Inaki Williams. However, both decisions were justified and clear as daylight.

Athletic Club recorded more shots and attempts on target and created as many, if not more chances, than Barcelona. But the Catalans held on to their lead, thanks to Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s heroics in goal.

The win at San Mames gives Xavi’s men the chance to go 12 points clear next weekend when they face Real Madrid at home. Barça Universal brings you three talking points from Athletic Club vs Barcelona.

1. The need to finish games

Barcelona are the kings of 1-0 wins this season. The game at San Mames on Sunday night was the team’s 11th win across all competitions with the narrow scoreline and the ninth time they did it in La Liga, thus scripting a club record in the process.

To repeatedly defend a one-goal lead speaks volumes about the Blaugranas’ defence which has been phenomenal this season. It shows their mental fortitude and how far Xavi has brought them from last season when Barcelona conceded goals for fun.

However, it is worrying that the men in garnet and blue have been unable to kill games off repeatedly. As important as hard-fought wins are, making it a habit would not be sustainable in the long term.

With Ousmane Dembele and Pedri out, the league leaders seem to be short of creativity on the field. Consequently, there has been a steep and evident rise in the number of 1-0 wins ever since the duo was ruled out.

The current strategy may be enough to get the team over the line in La Liga and possibly the Cup too. However, a lot must change for Barcelona to become competitive in Europe again.

2. Blessed at the back

Rock solid. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images)

Barcelona required some luck to take three points from San Mames after Inaki Williams outran the defence and scored a well-worked goal, only for it to be chalked off. With the exception of that instance, however, Xavi’s side looked solid at the back throughout the ninety minutes.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen was rightly declared Man-of-the-Match on the night as he oversaw his 19th clean sheet of the season. He was pushed to the extreme on the night, making a full stretch save to deny Iker Muniain before an unbelievable block in the dying minutes. In 90 minutes, he recorded three key saves from inside the box.

Yet, the German was not alone. Away at San Mames, the Barcelona defence stepped up its game again to fight off an inspired Bilbao attack.

Alejandro Balde single-handedly pocketed the dynamic and pacey Nico Williams with ease and made himself a nuisance in the final third. The youngster wreaked havoc on the left wing, completing all five attempted dribbles and providing two key passes on the night.

The central defence too looked solid as long as the Andreas Christensen – Jules Kounde partnership lasted, leaving no holes for Williams to run into. The duo made 12 clearances, two interceptions, two tackles and won eight duels on the night. Further, Kounde made a goal-line clearance to deny the hosts in the penultimate minute.

3. New game, same Raphinha

With Dembele injured and Robert Lewandowski seemingly rusty, Raphinha has been the one to step up for Barcelona in recent games. He scored the only goal against Valencia in the previous weekend and repeated that feat last night, scoring the winner at San Mames.

The Brazilian’s strike came in the final minute of the first half and began with his own cross into the area. The clearance was collected by Sergio Busquets who took a pause and sent it back wide to Raphinha. The former Leeds United man then lashed the ball into the far post, beyond the reach of Julen Agirrezabala.

In 84 minutes on the field, the winger completed three of his seven attempted dribbles, 80% of his long balls, and provided one key pass. Most importantly, his only shot on target beat the goalkeeper.

Raphinha was at risk of missing El Clasico had he been booked but will now certainly be available against Real Madrid. Given the significance of next weekend’s clash, Raphinha will have to be at his best to help his side coast to three points.

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