Barcelona clung on with 10 men to beat Valencia 1-0 and move nine points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga on Sunday, thanks to Raphinha’s early header.
The champions could not find a way through against Real Betis in an entertaining 0-0 draw later on at the Benito Villamarin.
Brazilian winger Raphinha nodded Barca in front in the 16th minute. But after Ferran Torres missed a penalty and Ronald Araujo was sent off, the hosts were left fighting tooth and nail for the three points.
They retreated in the final half hour following Araujo’s 59th minute red card but survived to beat Ruben Baraja’s Valencia, who are 19th and two points from safety.
“We suffered too much, we had many chances to score the second,” Xavi told reporters.
“It can’t be that we have to finish games like that when we have chances. We have to learn how to close out games.”
Barcelona’s 1-0 Copa del Rey semi-final first-leg triumph over Madrid on Thursday followed two consecutive defeats, and this narrow victory felt like a significant step towards a first league title since 2019.
Without top scorer Robert Lewandowski, midfield maestros Pedri and Gavi and winger Ousmane Dembele, the Catalans did just enough to win.
Valencia resisted early Barcelona pressure but came undone when Sergio Busquets lofted a pass into the area for Raphinha to meet with a cunning run and a header over Giorgi Mamardashvili.
Samuel Lino missed a big chance for Valencia in the first half, and early in the second Barcelona should have moved two ahead when Hugo Guillamon was penalised for handball.
Torres grabbed the ball to take the penalty, although Ansu Fati also wanted it and the pair exchanged words, increasing the pressure on the Spaniard, who hit the post.
Fati hit the woodwork himself moments later, before a mistake from Jules Kounde left Barcelona with 10 men.
The French defender’s header back towards his own goal sent Hugo Duro through. Araujo dragged down the striker and saw red.
Valencia put pressure on Barcelona without troubling Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who kept his 18th La Liga clean sheet of the season.
The visitors might have been awarded a late penalty when Franck Kessie tangled with Fran Perez, but the referee waved away their desperate — and not unfounded — appeals.