Raphinha propels Barca to 9-point table lead over Real Madrid

(Correcting photo headlines)

Madrid, Mar 5 (EFE).- Barcelona cemented its lead on top of the La Liga table, grabbing three additional points with its 1-0 victory over Valencia at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Although Raphinha sank the only tally of the match and Barca was shorthanded for final 30-plus minutes after Ronald Araujo was red-carded for blocking a scoring chance by the scrappy and hard-driving Valencia squad, it was a welcome comeback by the Catalan side after its shocking defeat by lowly Almeria last weekend.

The scoring chance came in the 15th minute when Sergio Busquets sent a precise pass to Raphinha, who headed it into the cords.

Ten minutes after play resumed after the break, Torres missed a penalty kick and it was just minutes later that Araujo was booted.

Three days ago, Barca had notched a 1-0 win over its closest La Liga challenger Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in the first match of the Copa del Rey semifinals.

Manager Xavi Hernandez, due to a suspension, had to observe the Sunday match from the stands, but his team did all right despite missing several key players, including top La Liga scorer Robert Lewandowski, Dembele and Pedri out on the injury list and Gavi sidelined on a yellow-card suspension.

The loss sent Valencia, already in the relegation zone, down to the No. 19 spot, two points below the threshold, while Barca padded its lead over Real Madrid – who drew against Real Betis – to 9 points at the top of the table.

Meanwhile, also on Sunday Valladolid downed Espanyol 2-1, with both clubs struggling to stay out of the relegation zone.

The twinefinders for Valladolid were Ivan Sanchez, scoring in the 25th minute, and Alvaro Aguado in minute 62, while Martin Braithwaite got a late 87th-minute tally for Espanyol.

The win puts Valladolid in 14th place, two points above relegation, while Espanyol is in the No. 12 spot, although both teams have 27 points.

In other action, No. 7 Rayo Vallecano battled to a scoreless draw with No. 8 Athletic Bilbao, although the latter muffed a good chance for the win in stoppage time when Nico Williams’ shot-on-goal bounced off the crossbar.

And second-place Real Madrid came up short in its race to catch up to, or at least keep pace with, Barcelona, having to settle for a scoreless draw against No. 5 Real Betis, dominating the match at Benito Marin Stadium but missing several decent scoring chances.

Last year’s La Liga champions, managed by Carlo Ancelotti, were desperate for a win to remain a surmountable seven points behind Barca, but Karim Benzema’s free kick hit was nullified when VAR review revealed that colleague Antonio Rudiger touched the ball with his forearm, and thus the capital squad slipped to 9 points behind the Catalan side.

Betis netminder Claudio Bravo did great work to deny another try by Benzema as well as one by Vinicius Junior, and the No. 5 side pressed the capital team’s goaltender, Thibaut Courtois, who made two great saves, including one against Borja Iglesias when it seemed he could not help but score.

EFE –/bp

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