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Once again, a solitary goal was enough to ensure all three points for FC Barcelona in what turned out to be a real thriller at San Mamés, a ground that had only seen one Catalan victory in the last six visits.
Raphinha has been enjoying some splendid form of late, and it was his goal with practically the final kick of the first half that ultimately decided Sunday's encounter. But there was a nail-biting climax as the Basques had a number of chances to level things up, including one in the 87th minute that did find the net but was cancelled out by a VAR review.
Saved by VAR
The only goal of the game was an odd one. Sergio Busquets provided the sweetest of assists and Raphinha tucked it away nicely. But the flag was up for offside and the Brazilian didn’t even bother protesting.
It certainly looked offside when seen live, but VAR showed that Raphinha’s position was quite legal. 1-0 Barça!!!
Until then, Barça had been struggling to get on top of the game. There had been a few early half-chances, but as the game progressed, it had been the Basques who’d started to look the more dangerous of the sides.
The clearest of their chances came when Raúl García’s header rattled off the crossbar. But missing their top goalscorer Oihan Sancet, there were others that the home side failed to bury.
For most of the second half, it looked like we had the same situation that we’ve seen so many times this league season.
Although Barça led by a goal, they couldn’t find a second to put the game to bed. But one of the tightest defences in Liga history was doing such a fine job that they were looking comfortable enough with the situation.
It wasn’t so much a case of stopping Athletic from scoring as it was one of stopping them from even having a chance of scoring.
But the last ten minutes brought a potentially game-changing surge from the Basques, buoyed by their biggest ever crowd since their new-look stadium was opened, 49.741.
Berenguer drove one onto the post, although had the ball been on target, it looked like Ter Stegen had it covered. As if to prove the point, the German made a brilliant diving save when Munian’s curling effort was certainly on the way in.
Barça were under serious pressure. And then Iñaki Williams broke free and found the net. 1-1.
Only it wasn’t. VAR had stopped a handball in the build-up. No goal. Phew! What a let-off!
Real Madrid next Sunday
And there was still more nerve-racking tension to come in the seven minutes of extra time. Two Athletic shots in rapid succession were kept out by little less than a miracle. First Jules Kounde and then Marcos Alonso majestically blocked almost certain goals and in doing so saved Barça two dropped points.
For the ninth time this league season, Barça were heading for a 1-0 win and this was one of the nerviest yet. The final whistle came as a huge relief. The nine-point lead at the top of the La Liga holds… and this time next week, it’s Clásico time!
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