Barcelona have gone 10 points clear at the top of the La Liga table for at least a few hours thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Valencia on Sunday afternoon at Camp Nou. Barça scored early and had several chances to double their lead including a penalty, but couldn’t finish the job and had to play the final 30 minutes with 10 men. But the Blaugrana found a way to once again get an ugly, defensive win and maintain their comfortable advantage in the standings.
Valencia needed a result at Camp Nou and came out with an attacking mindset, pressing high and sending bodies forward trying to score an early goal. They had a shot on target but never truly troubled the Barça defense, however, and slowly but surely they began leaving spaces in behind.
It took a while for Barça to grow into the game but they quickly scored a goal as soon as they stepped up their level of attacking play: Sergio Busquets played a beautiful ball over the top and Raphinha got to it before the goalkeeper to head home the opener.
The Blaugrana played well in the 10 or 15 minutes after the goal and had some bright moments and missed a couple of good chances, but they couldn’t maintain the same intensity and allowed Valencia to get some confidence towards the end of the half.
The Catalans also lost some very easy balls in dangerous positions which led to two strong chances for the visitors through Thierry Correia and Samuel Lino, but the Barça defense managed to stay clear of trouble through the first half.
At halftime Barça were playing well enough to be ahead but Valencia fired a couple of warning shots, and the Blaugrana needed to up their intensity and be more efficient in attack to finish the job in the second half.
Barça started the final period with two golden chances to double the lead: the first came when Guillamón blocked Jules Kounde’s shot inside the box with his arm, but Ferran Torres missed the penalty; a minute later, Raphinha played it through to Ansu Fati who nearly scored a beautiful goal with a perfect finish but the ball once again came off the post.
It seemed as though Barça were ready to kill the game off in a hurry, but the game completely changed when a bad pass from Kounde forced Ronald Araujo to foul Hugo Duro, denying a clear goalscoring opportunity and earning the Uruguayan a straight red card.
Barça were down to 10 men with a half-hour to go and Valencia were all of a sudden right back in the game and feeling like they had a real chance of stealing a result at Camp Nou, making attacking substitutions and stepping up their pressing and intensity level.
The home team did a solid job of keeping some of the ball in the first 10 minutes after the red card, but the final 20 plus additional time were simply an exercise in survival as Valencia owned possession and occupied Barça’s half with all 10 outfield players as they tried to find an opening.
But Valencia lacked clarity and imagination in the final third, and Barça did an expert job of wasting time, winning free-kicks and forcing the visitors into mistakes. They also got lucky when Franck Kessie came very close to conceding a penalty on a collision with Fran Pérez inside the box, but the referee and VAR did not see enough to point to the spot.
A desperate Valencia sent several crosses into the box looking for a late equalizer but the Barça defense got out of trouble time and time again, and the final whistle came to give Barça three crucial points in the title race.
This was ugly and full of mistakes and the lack of efficiency in front of goal nearly cost them, but the team once again showed a lot of fighting spirit and won a game they desperate needed to.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; Roberto (Eric 81’), Busquets, De Jong (Kessie 46’); Raphinha (Alarcón 87’), Ferran, Fati (Alonso 61’)
Goal: Raphinha (16’)
Red Card: Araujo (59’)
Valencia: Mamardashvili; Foulquier, Cömert (Diakhaby 55’), Özkacar, Vázquez; Guillamón; Correia (Castillejo 62’), Moriba (Pérez 62’), Almeida (Musah 78’), Lino (Kluivert 78’); Duro