La Liga: FC Barcelona 2-0 Granada CF: Match Review

Song played well in the heart of defense

FC Barcelona left it late, scoring two goals in the final five minutes to earn themselves a hard-fought win over Granada at the Camp Nou, thus maintaining their 100% record at the top of La Liga. Just like in midweek against Spartak Moscow, Barcelona struggled to take their chances due to a combination of exceptional defending and a jaw-dropping performance from Toño in the Granada goal, but eventually their pressure paid off as Xavi broke the deadlock on 87 minutes with a stunning shot that crashed in off the underside of the crossbar. The Blaugrana doubled their lead in injury-time after Borja Gomez turned the ball into his own net, although Alexis Sanchez would have scored if Gomez had neglected his defensive duties. All in all, it wasn’t the greatest performance, but with a temporary eleven point lead over Real Madrid, who on earth cares?

Barcelona

Granada

Possession

75%

25%

Total Shots

20

6

Shots on Target

11

3

Pass Accuracy

90%

67%

Fouls

10

15

Offsides

3

0

Yellow Cards

0

3

Red Cards

0

0

Tito Vilanova made four changes from Wednesday’s win over Spartak Moscow, one of which was forced as Gerard Piqué made way for Alex Song due to injury. Elsewhere, Thiago Alcântara was restored to the starting XI in place of Xavi, while Alexis Sanchez and David Villa started alongside Lionel Messi in attack. It was Villa’s first competitive start of 2012, and Alexis’ first since returning from injury. Would Alex Song be able to acclimatize to a role in the centre of the defense? Would El Guaje be able to cap off his return with a goal? So many questions, all of which were answered over the course of the match.

The visitors started well, pressuring the Barcelona players into early mistakes, creating their first half-chance of sorts as early as the first minute. Dani Alves gave the ball away in midfield allowing Guilherme Siquiera to roam free down the left-hand side, but his cross was dealt with – at the second time of asking – by the Barca defense. Despite the early pressure, Barcelona quickly settled into the game, working the ball around the pitch – it was almost like a child’s game: everyone got a touch in the early stages.

The first chance of the game fell to Lionel Messi, but surprisingly it didn’t bring the breakthrough goal. Dani Alves was the creator with a jaw-dropping diagonal pass into the area to pick out Messi’s run, but the Argentine was unusually slow on the trigger, allowing Granada to recover and make the block. However, Granada were not prepared to simply lie down and accept defeat. They fought hard and even took the game to Barcelona when they could, making life difficult for the Blaugrana.

The Catalans were having to work hard to create each and every chance, with those chances difficult to come by in the opening half-hour. After Messi’s blocked shot, the next chance came around the 24 minute mark as Cesc Fàbregas was teed up for a shot from the edge of the area. The Spaniard hasn’t scored in over 20 games for his club (he has scored a few times for his country though) and it’s clear that this fact eats away at his confidence with each passing game. On this occasion, Cesc sent his shot straight at Tono in the Granada goal.

As the half started to draw to a close, Barcelona moved through the gears, upping the tempo to carve out more chances on goal. The trouble was, no matter what Barcelona could think of, Granada were equal to – thanks to some fabulous last-ditch interventions. After Sergio Busquets won a free-kick with a cute back-heel, Barca hit Granada with a well-worked free-kick which culminated with a one-two between Messi and Busquets, and despite another intelligent back-heel from Busquets, Granada blocked Messi’s shot on goal. They blocked another Messi shot minutes later, then the rebound effort from David Villa. Thiago was the next to have a shot blocked, and it started to frustrate the Barcelona players. Lionel Messi exchanged some words with David Villa and with Thiago Alcântara, undoubtedly influenced by the fact that Barcelona were heading into the break level with 18th placed Granada.

Barcelona started the second half well; David Villa displayed fabulous improvisational skills to deflect a low cross towards goal, but in doing so, he sent the shot straight at Tono. Alex Song also had a chance to open the scoring with a header though his effort lacked any real power, so Tono made another comfortable save. Clearly, Tito Vilanova had had enough and sent on the reinforcements: Xavi and Pedro were on, Thiago and David Villa went off.

Unfortunately, the changes didn’t really have their desired effect. Barcelona were still struggling to create chances, and when they did, Granada made exceptional blocks. For example, another low cross into the area, this time it was directed towards Messi but the Argentine couldn’t turn the chance into a goal as Siqueira flew in with a world-class block. Messi had another chance moments later, cutting in from the right-hand side to get a shot on goal and although no Granada defender could make the block, Tono could. All the while, the clock was still ticking – 25 minutes to find a goal and counting.

The clock ticked down to 17 minutes before Cristian Tello took the field, replacing Adriano as Tito Vilanova looked to emulate Wednesday night’s turn-around against Spartak Moscow. Barcelona were now playing with three at the back and immediately, it reaped rewards. Alexis Sanchez had a penalty appeal turned down after a fabulous run from Messi before Tono produced yet another world-class save to deny Cesc Fàbregas his first goal since February. And he was at it again in the 78th minute, stopping Xavi’s shot from point-blank range. On another day, Barcelona could have been ahead by three or four, but with ten minutes left, they were yet to break deadlock.

Granada were threatening on the counter and Youssef El-Arabi came so close to snatching the three points but Valdés – who had little to do for the majority of the match – made a huge save to keep the scores level. But whatever Valdés could do, Tono could do better as Barcelona countered, but were denied by not just one, but two close-range saves from the Granada keeper. Then, with mere minutes left to play, Barcelona finally got their breakthrough. The question was, how do you beat a super-human goalkeeper? Well, you put it where he simply cannot reach it and Xavi did just that.

Set up beautifully by Alexis Sanchez, Xavi let fly with the outside of his boot, smashing the ball into the back of the net via the cross-bar. It was a staggering goal from a once-in-a-lifetime player. So many times we ask ourselves: what would we do without Xavi? Well, you could argue Barcelona would have dropped points in this game for sure. Tono went on to make another good save to deny Alexis, but again, he could do nothing about Barcelona’s second.

It was a fortunate goal, one that Granada didn’t deserve to concede, but it counts all the same. Xavi and Lionel Messi combined brilliantly from a corner kick with Xavi lifting the ball in-between two players to return the ball to Messi and the Argentine played a cross towards the far-post. The cross was destined to find Alexis for an easy tap-in though the Chilean would not get the chance to score as Borja Gomez diverted Leo’s pass into the net. That was how it finished – Barcelona 2-0 Granada and on reflection, it was a deserved win. Barcelona may not have been too clinical in front of goal, but Granada created virtually nothing over the 90 minutes, and in this game, it’s all about having chances, as without that, you cannot score goals. Savour that eleven point lead Culés! Next up is a tricky trip to Sevilla, but until then, Visca el Barca!

Before you vote in the Community Player Ratings, there's one more thing left to say, and that's a huge congratulations to Fadel Assaf for correctly predicting the score in our Daily Poll. Fadel is only the third member to correctly predict a score this season and so sits in joint-top spot of the snappily-named Barca Blaugranes Prediction League.

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