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

Rafinha provided a match-winner for the second week running as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao in a 1-0 win, this time at San Mames on Sunday, despite some late play from Ianaki Williams that had an equalizer ruled out by VAR .

Williams thought he had earned a point for the home team in the 87th minute, his effort being disallowed after a pitch-side review for a handball by Iker Muniyan in the build-up.

Bilbao’s Yuri Berchiche and Gorka Gurzeta had great chances to equalize in stoppage time, but Barca saved it thanks to Rafinha’s ninth goal in all competitions this season.

Therefore, coach Xavi Hernandez’s team will maintain their nine-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga next weekend. el clasico In Camp Nou.

Swift response

1. VAR decision gives Barcelona three important points

There was already a tumultuous atmosphere in San Mames on Sunday after a week which saw Spanish prosecutors seek charges against Barcelona of trying to get favors from referees – something the club vehemently denied. In the 30th minute, Athletic fans threw fake banknotes onto the pitch with Barca’s badges and the words “Mafia” written on them and chanted, “To the second division.”

It was nothing compared to the congratulatory whistle of the full-time whistle after the game’s big VAR decision went against Athletic.

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Williams volleyed a ball over the top for Barcelona and edged past Marc-Andre ter Stegen for what appeared to be a well-executed equaliser. At first nothing appeared to be wrong, but referee Gil Manzano was soon advised to review the play again. On review, he disallowed the goal for a handball by Munion at the other end of the pitch in a sequence where Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong had lost the ball.

Nevertheless, Athletic could still get a point. Berchiche and Gurzetta saw shots blocked on the line in a frenetic end to the game. Earlier, Alex Berenguer and Raul Garcia both made woodwork for Athletic Bilbao and Ter Stegen pulled off saves on Munien and Williams.

Manager Ernesto Valverde’s team will have to pick themselves up quickly. Athletic Club are still in the running for a European place and are in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey, despite a five-game winless run in all competitions.

2. Barcelona’s clean sheet drives title charge ahead of El Clasico

There was an element of luck in Barca’s latest clean sheet on Sunday, but their numbers over the course of the season are not accidental.

They now have 19 shutouts in 25 league games, more than any team in Europe’s top five leagues this season. Overall, he has conceded just eight goals in LaLiga, a record low for this stage of the season in Spain’s top flight.

Although this might have been the closest shave he’s ever had. The 15 shots fired by Athletic Mustard were the second most by Barca this season (Atletico Madrid managed 20 in January) and goalkeeper Ter Stegen was once again at his best. Ter Stegen has already matched his league-best 19 clean sheets in a season, with 13 more games to go in this season. Defenders Andreas Christensen, Jules Kunde and Alejandro Balde also made important contributions on various occasions.

The clean sheet means that Barca have not always had to be superior in attack, and often one goal is enough. They have now won 1-0 nine times in LaLiga this season, and it means they will have a nine-point cushion when they travel to Madrid next week. A win in the Clasico would take them a step closer to a first league title since 2019.

3. Rafinha delivering in Dembele’s absence

Rafinha was often criticized in his first season at Barcelona, ​​but is now regularly winning them matches.

His goal against Athletic came fresh from his winner in a 1-0 win against Valencia last weekend. It is now five goals in his last 10 games since Ousmane Dembele’s injury.

With Dembele out, as well as Pedri, it is Rafinha coming up with crucial moments. While Robert Lewandowski missed an early one-on-one and later sent a header wide, Brazil took a huge chance of their own.

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

best and worst performers

Best: Rafinha, Barcelona

The match winner going on for the second week in a row and has also been relentless in his defensive commitment.

Best: Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona

The goalkeeper pulled off several fine saves to get all three points for his team.

Best: Alejandro Balde, Barcelona

Dangerous in attack and alert in defence, especially when the pace of Nico Williams turned to his side.

Worst: Robert Lewandowski, Barcelona

He took a heavy touch, missing a chance when played in by De Jong in the first half, and then fired a Balde cross wide after the break.

Worst: Mikel Balenciaga, Athletic Club

The 35-year-old struggled against Rafinha at times and was subbed off in the second half.

Worst: Iker Munian, Athletic Club

He had an impact off the bench but saw an opportunity saved by Ter Stegen and it was his handball that disallowed his side’s final goal.

Highlights and Notable Moments

Athletic Bilbao were not without their chances, but you have to love the commitment of Gavi’s intervention in the 23rd minute.

Now he’s using your noggin!

Anyway, you probably just want to see Raffinah’s goal, right? The highlights, live in real time on ESPN FC’s social media accounts, were:

Bilbao appeared to have scored an equaliser, which would have ended Barcelona’s impressive defensive streak, but a lengthy VAR check resulted in the goal being overturned.

Replays showed Iker Muniyan’s arm touched the ball in a game where Barcelona’s Frankie de Jong lost possession in midfield, with Bilbao counterattacking the other way.

After the match: What the managers said

Barcelona manager Javi Hernandez on the result: ,It is true that we have to play better, but it is a tough place. Suffering is normal in San Mames. But it is an important victory. We knew it would be a tough game.”

Hernandez on the crowd’s performance during the game: ,I respect the fans in San Mames. He has always treated me well. I was surprised by the hostile atmosphere towards Barca. Sad to see I don’t think it is good for the society. Everyone is free (to have their opinion) and I respect all views, whether I agree with it or not, but it hurt me.”

Athletic Club manager Ernesto Valverde on the goal reversal: “I look at the images and I don’t know. It’s a question of what is football and what is not. I think VAR is there to correct blatant mistakes. So it came. Big errors. Balls that have gone in Whether or not to call the referee to see if it (a hand) touches or not… I don’t know if it’s in the football world. Another day it’ll be with the other team.”

Key Stats (Provided by ESPN Stats & Information Research)

  • Barcelona’s nine 1-0 wins this season has extended the club record for the most in a single La Liga season (broken by 2017–18 Atlético, 2020–21 Sevilla and 1988–89 Valencia by any team in a single season). at most 11).

  • It was Rafinha’s second time scoring in consecutive matches with Barcelona in all competitions. After starting the season with one goal in 17 games, he has eight goals in his last 20 games.

  • Rafinha’s nine goals are his second most goals in a single season in his career (all competitions).

  • Athletic Club’s 15 shots are the second most for any team against Barcelona in La Liga (Atlético Madrid’s 20 shots on 8 February is the most). Barcelona have allowed the most shots in LaLiga this season in seven out of eight matches.


Athletic Club: Bilbao travel to Valladolid for their La Liga match against Real Valladolid on Friday, March 17 (Live Stream at 4PM ET on ESPN+).

Barcelona: Another version of: Barça has the next big one el clasico against rivals Real Madrid on Sunday, March 19 (live stream on ESPN+ at 4 p.m. ET). Although Barcelona are several points clear at the top of the La Liga table, this derby against second-place Real Madrid could have a big impact in the title race.

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