1. Patched-up Barcelona back on track in LaLiga
Barca have responded well to last week’s surprise defeat to Almeria, beating Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey on Thursday and then beating Valencia on Sunday to get their title charge back on track.
Neither performance has been spectacular, but Barca will point to mitigating circumstances. They remain without the injured trio of Robert Lewandowski, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele, while Gavi also sat out Valencia’s visit through suspension. They then lost Araujo for the final half-hour of the encounter, but still managed to get across the line.
The hosts did start well and deservedly led when Raphinha flicked home a brilliant Sergio Busquets pass. Valencia came into the game at the end of the first half, though Barca improved after the break, albeit without reward.
Ferran missed from the spot, hitting the post after Hugo Guillamon had handled the ball, with Ansu Fati then striking the other post from open play moments later. The game swung with Araujo’s dismissal moments later, though Valencia could not find a way through.
They were aggrieved not to be given a penalty for a Franck Kessie challenge on Fran Perez, but only have themselves to blame for only mustering one shot on target.
2. Barca’s defence is sustaining their title challenge
Despite beating Real Madrid on Thursday, Xavi has fielded criticism for losing the possession battle at the Santiago Bernabeu and being forced to defend. However, the truth is that it is Barca’s defence, not their star-studded attack, that is underpinning their push for the league title.
Sunday saw goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen‘s 18th clean sheet in 24 LaLiga games. They have conceded just eight times in the league. What’s more, only one of those goals has been conceded at Camp Nou — and that was a penalty against Espanyol. They have not conceded from open play at home this season in the top flight.
That run of resolute defending was put to the test in the final half an hour against Valencia, but even without Araujo, who has been one of their standout performers this season, they limited Valencia to very few clear-cut chances. The result is three more valuable points as they chase a first league title since 2019.
3. Baraja’s huge task at Valencia
Sunday’s defeat leaves Valencia 19th in LaLiga, two points from safety. Only Elche, who have won just twice all season, are below them in the table. Their season will not depend on results against Barca and Madrid, of course, but Valencia’s toothlessness was on full display on Sunday.
Against a Barca side arguably without four of their most important players — Lewandowski, Dembele, Pedri and Gavi — and then reduced to 10 men, they had a huge chance to at least take a point home with them. That they failed to really trouble Ter Stegen will have frustrated new coach Ruben Baraja, who recently replaced Gennaro Gattuso.
There was a reaction to Baraja’s appointment in the form of a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad last weekend, but there is still a lot of work to be done to avoid what would be an unexpected relegation.
Best and worst performers
– Raphinha, FW, Barcelona: Still not consistent enough, but his fourth goal in eight games since Dembele got injured could prove crucial at the end of the season.
– Andreas Christensen, DF, Barcelona: Kept Barca’s defence in order after Araujo’s red.
– Sergio Busquets, MF, Barcelona: With Pedri and Gavi out, he covered gaps in midfield and set up the goal with a sumptuous pass.
– Ronald Araujo, DF, Barcelona: Left his team with 10 men for the final 30 minutes, although may argue his challenge helped Barca keep their lead.
– Ferran Torres, FW, Barcelona: If he scores the penalty, Araujo may never have to make the challenge that saw him sent off, and then Barca could have had a much more comfortable final 30 minutes.
– Giorgi Mamardashvili, GK, Valencia: Caught in no man’s land for the goal which cost his side defeat.
Highlights and notable moments
Raphinha had the cool finish, but how about that assist by Sergio Busquets?
Sergio Busquets puts it on a silver platter for Raphinha 🍽 pic.twitter.com/AlwSvYHndO
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 5, 2023
And then came the potentially critical moment in the second half, when Araujo deservedly saw red.
Ronald Araújo is shown a red card for this challenge 😳 pic.twitter.com/D2bPaeIRG8
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 5, 2023
Lucky for Barca, it didn’t impact the final score.
After the match: What the players/managers said
“We have to know how to kill games off. We had a lot of chances to do so and we didn’t do it, then with the Araujo red card, we suffered at the end. These are games when we should be talking about a comfortable victory, but the lack of effectiveness in the final third forces us to suffer. We were able to, though, even with a lot of players out and then with a man less.” — Barcelona manager Xavi
“We had chances to leave with something. There were spells when we struggled to get adjusted to the game. We can do better on the goal as well. But the team reacted well to that setback and we had chances to level. With a player more, we looked to get wide. They defended well. We had chances but did not take then. If we could have been a little more clinical, we would have been going home with a positive result.” — Valencia manager Ruben Baraja
“It was a difficult game. The important thing is to keep picking up points. It’s hard to play a man down. We did what was needed. [Regarding the ref card,] Araujo was the last man, so it’s normal that he’s sent off. The Valencia player was in along on Marc [Andre ter Stegen]. For me, it’s a red card. Sometimes we have to do these things for the good of the team.” — Barcelona forward Raphinha
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Araujo received the second red card of his career with Barcelona in all competitions. (He also received a red card on his debut against Sevilla on Oct. 6, 2019.)
– Torres’ missed penalty means he is now 15 games without a goal.
Barcelona: Xavi will take his side to take on Athletic Club next Sunday, before the small matter of a home LaLiga clasico on Sunday, March 19 to lead into the international break.