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Calm Christensen lays platform for Raphinha to restore Barcelona’s nine-point lead

Vital victory at San Mames

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - LaLiga Santander Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

An absolutely sensational atmosphere at San Mames greeted both teams on Sunday night.

The game of the weekend, known in Spain as a ‘Partidazo,’ certainly lived up to its top billing from the very first moment until the very last.

Both sides played the fullest part in a game that was a most worthy advert for La Liga.

From Xavi’s point of view there was a lot that needed improving, both defensively and attacking wise, but not many teams get a positive result from an away fixture at Athletic Club.

Much of that is down to the way in which the visitors approached a fixture which, if won, would put them in the healthiest of positions going into next weekend’s El Clasico.

Indeed, when it was necessary, the Blaugranes put their foot in - or head in Gavi’s case - and slowed or upped the tempo as necessary.

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - LaLiga Santander Photo by Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

When Athletic looked dangerous on the break thanks in no small part to the lightning-quick pace of the Williams brothers, Andreas Christensen stood tall.

In the absence of Barca’s own speedster, Ronald Araujo, the Dane’s calmness in possession anchored what turned out to be a hard-fought winning performance.

For so long an unsung hero, this was the night when Christensen deserved to have his name up in lights.

Positionally throughout the game he was faultless, and provided another point of attack when required.

Like all great centre-backs, he appears to effortlessly glide across the turf, whilst maintaining the steely and determined demeanour to be a success in the position.

He didn’t give Raul Garcia an inch, and was equal to any threat that came Barca’s way.

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - LaLiga Santander Photo by Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

At the opposite end of the pitch, Raphinha once again showed that he can be an able deputy for Ousmane Dembele when he’s in the mood.

The Brazilian does still need to work on his delivery at times, though his right-footed Exocet in the first half was just perfect.

To see him on the front foot throughout against a notoriously tough opponent when at home will surely have pleased Xavi, who has wanted to see more effort, intensity and output from his wide man.

A particularly flamboyant pass just before the hour drew the ire of the coach, and it’s perhaps that side of Raphinha’s game that, whilst natural to him, needs to be reined in somewhat - especially when the game is still needing to be won.

Whether you call it joga bonito or samba football, there’s definitely a place for it at Barca as Ronaldinho proved.

The issue for Raphinha at this point, however, is that he doesn’t affect games on as regular as basis as his countryman did, and therefore the showboating grates rather than excites.

He is absolutely playing his way into form though and you can see that defenders are now fearful and scared of jumping in too quickly.

That’s a priceless commodity and bodes well for the remainder of the campaign.

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