Quique Setien insisted Barcelona have not lost their confidence, despite needing a dubious late penalty, converted by Lionel Messi, to scrape past Real Sociedad 1-0 on Saturday inside a frustrated Camp Nou.
Messi’s 24th goal of the season, and fifth in four games, was enough to save Barca, despite a drab display that threatened to bring more disappointment following last weekend’s loss against Real Madrid.
As tension grew inside Camp Nou, some of the home fans whistled to express their dissatisfaction, which Jordi Alba then seemed to confront when celebrating a late goal, ruled out for offside, by putting his fingers in his ears.
“We have not lost confidence in what we are doing,” said Setien. “The fans sometimes don’t expect the opposition to restrict you but you have to take into account that Real Sociedad are a great team.”
On his own reaction, Alba said: “I respect the fans but the fans have to respect me. Nobody likes to be whistled, and even less after 15 minutes at 0-0.”
Madrid drop to second in the table but can restore their one-point advantage at the top by winning away at struggling Real Betis on Sunday night.
Their Clasico victory at the Santiago Bernabeu put the pressure back on Barcelona, whose response was hardly resounding, with Setien’s side ultimately reliant on VAR to spot a handball in the 81st minute from Robin Le Normand.
The lack of appeal and the chunk of play that passed before VAR intervened made the decision all the more surprising and la Real’s players were still shaking their heads at the final whistle.
Yet the win was all-important for the Catalans at the end of another week dominated by headlines surrounding problems off the pitch.
Setien said he had apologised to the squad after his assistant Eder Sarabia was recorded launching into a number of foul-mouthed rants against his own players during the game against Madrid, even if there were chants in support of Sarabia before kick-off.
“When the club is in a moment of weakness, these kinds of things come out,” said Gerard Pique. “It’s normal for an assistant coach, with the adrenaline high, to express himself. We see it as normal.”
– Braithwaite causes trouble –
Barcelona created a handful of openings during the first half and Martin Braithwaite, making his first start, was at the heart of most of them, with his willingness to run in behind offering a good alternative in attack.
Twice Messi sent Braithwaite free early on but his lung-busting runs ended in tame shots. When he did hit one into the net, he was pulled back for offside.
Messi created a chance of his own by hunting the ball down in the corner before retrieving a chipped Sergio Busquets pass, only to scuff the finish.
The chances came more frequently in the second half as Barca turned the screw. Messi slid one past the post and then sliced another over from Antoine Griezmann’s cushioned header.
Ivan Rakitic’s drive was parried, Pique’s header too straight and Alba’s ball across the face of goal just too far ahead of the diving Rakitic.
As chances went begging, la Real sensed an opportunity. Nacho Monreal flashed wide and Alexander Isak hammered over.
But just as the tension was growing, Barcelona were leant a helping hand, with VAR reviewing a handball from Le Normand and referee Juan Martinez Munuera persuaded to point to the spot. Messi made no mistake.
Atletico Madrid will hope for a tighter contest against Liverpool in the Champions League on Wednesday than their frantic 2-2 draw earlier on Saturday against Sevilla.
Joao Felix looked as sharp at the Wanda Metropolitano as he has done all season and completed a four-minute comeback for Atletico after Alvaro Morata’s penalty cancelled out Luuk de Jong’s opener for Sevilla.
But Lucas Ocampos levelled with another penalty at the end of a pulsating first half, again with the help of VAR after a foul by Kieran Trippier.
The draw will be more gratefully received by Sevilla, who sit third in La Liga and two points ahead of Atletico, who stay fifth after missing an opportunity to close the gap.
Fourth-placed Getafe had Mauro Arambarri sent off late on as they drew 0-0 at home to relegation battlers Celta Vigo.