Ten-man Barcelona battled to a nervy 1-0 win over strugglers Valencia at Camp Nou to move 10 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga.
Barca suffered a shock loss to Almeria in their last league game before beating Madrid in Thursday’s Copa del Rey semi-final first leg and were made to work hard by Valencia.
Raphinha led the visitors early but Ronald Araujo’s red card in the 59th minute, shortly after Ferran Torres had missed a penalty, set up a more tense final half-hour than expected.
Valencia had good chances either side of Araujo’s dismissal but failed to test Marc-Andre ter Stegen to remain two points safe in the relegation zone.
Barca head coach Xavi was in the stands for the one-match ban and had a perfect view of Raphinh’s impressive debut.
Sergio Busquets intercepted the ball in the box and Raphinha timed his run to perfection to get in front of Giorgio Mamardashvili and glance the ball into the unguarded net.
Valencia should have leveled before half-time but Thierry Correia headed a great chance wide and Samuel Lino fired wide when Ter Stegen played the ball straight to his feet.
The visitors got a reprieve when Torres clipped the post from the penalty spot awarded for Hugo Guillamon’s through ball, while Ansu Fati hit the inside of the post a minute later.
There was then another twist when Araujo saw red for pulling down Hugo Duro to prevent the Valencia striker from breaking through after Jules Kounde sent the ball into his path.
Valencia had a late penalty shout turned down for Franck Kessie’s challenge on Fran Perez, but they ultimately failed to capitalize on their one-man advantage in the final 30 minutes.
Barcelona player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 5/10 – Almost gave a goal away with a poor ball but had a quiet day after that, not doing much right or wrong with Valencia failing to test him.
RB: Jules Kounde – 3/10 – A poor header from the Frenchman led to his team going down to 10 men, and he looked uncomfortable at the back throughout while also failing to offer much going forward.
CB: Ronald Araujo – 4/10 – Had precious little to do in the first half and got himself sent off as soon as he did in the second, although he was largely forced into making the foul by a poor ball from Kounde.
CB: Andreas Christensen – 6/10 – Was comfortably the best of Barcelona’s back four defensively, looking solid and steady throughout.
LB: Alejandro Balde – 6/10 – Wasn’t caused too many problems in defence and made some good passes at the other end.
CM: Sergi Roberto – 6/10 – Won the ball well but didn’t do much with it.
DM: Sergo Busquets – 7/10 – Created the only goal of the game with an excellent pass and kept things ticking over nicely for his team after that.
CM: Frenkie de Jong – 5/10 – Struggled to get involved in the 45 minutes that he played, perhaps a little fatigued after his all-action display in the mid-week El Clasico.
RW: Raphinha – 8/10 – Took his goal well and could have had assists to his name too if his team-mates had their shooting boots on. Comfortably the biggest threat on the pitch.
ST: Ferran Torres – 3/10 – Missed a penalty and didn’t hold up the ball or create chances for others. A day to forget.
LW: Ansu Fati – 5/10 – Looked lively but missed some good chances and failed to create too much for his team-mates.
SUB: Franck Kessie (45′ for Raphinha) – 5/10 – Worked hard but wasn’t great in possession and was perhaps lucky not to give away a penalty.
SUB: Marcos Alonso (61′ for Fati) – N/A
SUB: Eric Garcia (81′ for Roberto) – N/A
SUB: Angel Alarcon (87′ for Raphinha) – N/A
Xavi – 7/10 – Despite not being on the touchline due to suspension, he adapted to the red card well to see out the game, but his decisions before that weren’t great with his team not performing too well.