Woodwork and VAR save Barca in Bilbao a week ahead of El Clasico

Athletic Bilbao's Yuri Berchiche reacts during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Athletic Club and Barcelona at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao, Spain, Sunday, March 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

MADRID, March 12 (Xinhua) -- FC Barcelona take a nine-point lead over Real Madrid into next weekend's El Clasico in the Camp Nou after a hard-fought and controversial 1-0 win away to Athletic Bilbao.

Raphinha's diagonal shot in first-half injury time was enough to give Barca the points in a game where Raul Garcia and Alex Berenguer hit the woodwork for the home side.

Athletic thought they had scored a deserved equalizer through Inaki Williams in the 86th minute, but VAR ruled the goal out for a supposed handball when Iker Muniain had won the ball in midfield - although the images seemed to show the ball had hit his shoulder.

Real Madrid warmed up for El Clasico with a relatively comfortable 3-1 win at home to Espanyol on Saturday.

Although Joselu put Espanyol ahead in the eighth minute, Vinicius Jr and Eder Militao turned the game around before halftime.

Real Madrid then controlled the second half and substitute Marco Asensio scored the third in the 93rd minute.

Real Sociedad have just seven points from their last seven games after being held to a 1-1 draw in Mallorca. Carlos Fernandez put the San Sebastian side ahead in the first three minutes, but Lee Kang-in leveled for the home side early in the second half.

Real Sociedad's afternoon got worse in the penultimate minute when Mikel Merino was sent off for a bad challenge on Abdon Prats.

Villarreal and Real Betis drew 1-1 in a clash between two sides playing in Europe and wanting to return to continental football next season.

Borja Iglesias scored after good work from Rodri to put Betis ahead in the 38th minute, but Yeremi Pino scored in the 55th minute after an impressive pass from Villarreal youngster Ramon Terrats.

Iago Aspas scored twice as Celta Vigo continued their recovery with a 3-0 win at home to Rayo Vallecano, who have now gone five games without a win.

Valencia claimed a much-needed 1-0 win at home to Osasuna. Justin Kluivert's 73rd-minute goal separated the two sides and Osasuna keeper Sergio Herrera saved a last-minute penalty from Valencia striker Hugo Duro.

Sevilla also took three vital points from their 2-1 win at home to Almeria in a game between two direct rivals to avoid relegation.

Sergio Akieme put Almeria ahead in the second minute of the game, and the visitors had chances to extend their lead before Lucas Ocampos leveled from the penalty spot in first-half injury time.

An entertaining second half could have gone the way of either side, but Erik Lamela won it for Sevilla with a powerful 73rd-minute header.

Valladolid ended up with just eight players at the end of their 1-1 draw away to bottom side Elche.

Valladolid looked to be set for a win after Cyle Larin's early goal, but everything went wrong in the closing minutes of the game as Darwin Machis went off injured after Valladolid had used all their substitutes.

Tete Morente leveled for Elche in the 96th minute and in the remaining minutes of injury time, visiting duo Roque Mesa and Martin Hongla were both sent off.

There was also controversy as Cadiz and Getafe drew 2-2 on Friday night in a match that saw three penalties and two red cards.

Enes Unal scored two penalties for Getafe, with the second in the 106th minute, after Ruben Sobrino and a Ruben Alcaraz penalty had twice put Cadiz ahead.

Getafe's Domingos Duarte was sent off for committing that penalty and Cadiz's Isaac Carcelen was then shown a red card for aggression after the final whistle.