Raphinha header helps 10-man Barca to nervy Valencia win
Barcelona clung on with 10 men to beat Valencia 1-0 and move 10 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga on Sunday, thanks to Raphinha's early header.
The Brazilian winger nodded 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 tooth and nail for the three points.
"The important thing is we keep adding points and we have three more," Raphinha told Movistar.
"It's hard to play with one less man, we did what we needed to, moved deeper and we pulled out the win."
Barca retreated in the final half hour following Araujo's 59th minute red card 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 this narrow victory felt like a significant step towards a first league title since 2019.
Madrid can cut the gap back to seven points later on at Real Betis, but were hoping a depleted Barcelona would stumble at Camp Nou.
Without top scorer Robert Lewandowski, midfield maestros Pedri and Gavi and winger Ousmane Dembele, the Catalans were unable to play their best football, but did just enough to win.
Along with Barcelona's playing absentees, coach Xavi Hernandez was suspended too, watching from a box, with his brother and assistant Oscar in the dugout.
Valencia resisted early Barcelona pressure but came undone when Sergio Busquets lofted a pass into the area for Raphinha to meet with a cunning 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 consistently shone since his move from Leeds United last summer, his goals in recent weeks have helped Barca cope with Dembele's absence.
- Holding on -
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.
Remaining at the heart of the action, the Brazilian whipped in a cross for Ansu Fati who headed into the ground and off target when he should have tested Mamardashvili.
Valencia might 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 earn 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.
"Before the game we talked about who will take the penalties," added Raphinha.
"Ansu wanted to, I understand that, it's normal. He asked for it, but sometimes your team-mate lets you and sometimes he doesn't. It happens in a lot of teams."
Fati struck the near post himself moments later, 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. Ronald 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 -- and not unfounded -- appeals.
"I have the feeling we could have taken something more from here," Guillamon told Movistar.
"I thought the referee was going to blow for (the penalty), he steps on him and there's contact."