Xavi described Barcelona’s narrow 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao as a “golden victory” after they weathered a late onslaught to restore their nine-point lead ahead of next weekend’s Clasico.
Raphinha’s first-half goal at San Mames ultimately proved crucial but that was just the tip of the iceberg as Barca were forced to withstand intense late pressure.
Previously, Raul Garcia hit the post for the hosts and Athletic’s late barrage began with Alex Berenguer hitting the woodwork.
Athletic thought they salvaged a dramatic draw when Inaki Williams cleared and hit home, but the goal was then disallowed after a VAR review, with Iker Muniain handled in the build-up.
Nico Williams then somehow failed to get the ball right when he seemed destined to convert a tap-in. Yuri Berchiche’s follow-up was dropped from the line; and Gorka Guruzeta’s volley from that rebound was blocked decisively by Andreas Christensen in front of goal.
It was a valuable win as Barca meet second-placed Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on Sunday.
“The same thing happened to us again,” Xavi told reporters. “We’ve been at a good level for the past 75 minutes, although we need to attack better.
“It was a difficult game. In San Mames you suffer at the end and that’s what happened. It’s a golden win for us and we took three very important points with us.
“We’ve kept the nine-point lead and we’re going into the Clasico with confidence.
“But we have to get better offensively. We had two or three clear chances in the second half: from Ansu [Fati]; out of [Alejandro] Balde, who didn’t choose well; out of [Robert] Lewandowski with a header.
“We need to improve there, become calmer and more patient and play more in the attacking half. Solidity in defense also needs to be appreciated, but it’s true that we need to improve in attack.”
Barca were greeted with a particularly raucous reception in San Mames amid the Negreira scandal.
Last month, broadcaster SER Catalunya claimed Barca paid €1.6m to the company of Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira – the former vice-president of Spain’s Technical Committee of Referees (CTA) – between 2016 and 2018.
El Pais newspaper claimed Negreira’s company – DASNIL 95 SL – prepared written reports and DVD ratings from referees ahead of matches.
On Friday, however, Barca – who denied any wrongdoing – were charged with corruption over alleged payments to Negreira, who is also charged along with the club’s former presidents Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell.
It was also revealed on Friday that prosecutors are accusing Barca of paying €7.3m to companies owned by Negreira between 2001 and 2018.
Athletic fans mocked Barca, chanting that they should be demoted to the Segunda and the reception left Xavi stunned.
“I’m surprised by the hostile atmosphere in San Mames and it saddens me,” he said. “Judging prematurely [before a trial] is not good for society.
“Everyone is free. I respect opinions. But we are judged prematurely, and that saddens me.
“I have nothing more to add. We didn’t talk about it in the dressing room.
“These things are for the club [to deal with]. We’re focused on playing football, we’re professionals.”