Raphinha hitting his stride as Barcelona makes a final bid to challenge Madrid for Spanish title

MADRID (AP) — Raphinha’s stint at Barcelona has been marked by spurts of greatness and lackluster performances, but he appears to be hitting his stride at a key stage of the season.

In his second year with the Catalan club, the Brazil forward is still looking to fulfill the high expectations that came with his signing from Leeds in 2022.

He got off to another slow start this season but is red-hot right now as Barcelona plays the decisive stages of the Champions League and begins its final push for the Spanish league title.

Raphinha scored twice in the team’s 3-2 win at Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday, and had already netted the winner in Barcelona’s 1-0 win at Las Palmas in the Spanish league.

“Raphinha is a player who makes the difference,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández said. “He is great playing in spaces and he plays with great intensity. He always works for the team. We are very pleased with him.”

It was one of the best matches with Barcelona for the 27-year-old Raphinha, who last season scored 10 goals with the club and has eight this campaign.

“It was a special night that I’ll always remember,” Raphinha said. “It was a spectacular evening, not just for me but for the whole team as well.”

One of Raphinha’s goals came off an assist by playmaker Pedri, who returned from an injury layoff and could also be key for Barcelona as it tries to catch up to Real Madrid in the Spanish league.

Second-place Barcelona visits relegation-threatened Cadiz on Saturday, hoping to cut into Madrid’s eight-point lead with eight rounds of matches to go.

The defending league champions have won five straight games in all competitions, including five of its last six in the league, but Madrid is in control as it enters the final stretch.


Madrid, which drew 3-3 at home with Manchester City in their first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals, will visit Mallorca on Saturday looking to extend its 24-match unbeaten streak in the league.

Carlo Ancelotti’s team hasn’t lost in the competition since a 3-1 defeat at Atletico Madrid in September. It won four of its last five league matches, with the only setback a draw at Valencia last month.

Mallorca is coming off a defeat to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final and will now focus on staying in the first division. It sits in 15th place, six points from the relegation zone.


Third-place Girona visits fourth-place Atletico Madrid on Saturday with the teams separated by seven points with eight matches remaining.

Atletico is coming off a 2-1 win at home against Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.

Fifth-place Athletic, which is two points behind Atletico, hosts Villarreal on Sunday. The Basque Country club was still celebrating its first Copa title in four decades with a parade in Bilbao scheduled for Thursday.


Celta Vigo, the first team outside the relegation zone, visits eighth-place Real Betis on Friday, while 16th-place Rayo Vallecano hosts midtable Getafe on Saturday.

Second-to-last Granada welcomes 13th-place Alaves on Sunday, and bottom side Almeria is at sixth-place Real Sociedad.


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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