La Liga: Granada CF 1-2 FC Barcelona: Match Review

Another week, another milestone broken... - David Ramos

A review of Barcelona's 2-1 comeback win over Granada at the Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes

Barcelona recovered from a lacklustre first-half performance to come from behind at the Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes and register a 2-1 victory against Granada. The hosts were 100% under the guidance of their new coach Lucas Alcaraz, and they looked set to extend that 100% record to three games as Odion Ighalo put Granada ahead after 26 minutes. Barcelona looked out-of-sorts, and for the first 45 minutes at least, they looked a shadow of the team that has surged to a twelve point lead at the top of La Liga; but they re-emerged as the better team in the second half and secured an impressive comeback thanks to a brace from Lionel Messi – who notched his 300th and 301st goal for the Blaugrana in the process. The win extends Barcelona’s advantage at the top of La Liga to a staggering fifteen points, although Atletico Madrid can cut that lead back down to twelve points, provided they defeat Real Valladolid tomorrow evening.

Granada

Barcelona

Possession

26%

74%

Total Shots

7

18

Shots on Target

5

6

Pass Accuracy

70%

90%

Fouls

15

14

Offsides

0

6

Yellow Cards

2

1

Red Cards

0

0

Jordi Roura made five changes to the team that defeated Getafe 6-1 in last Sunday’s midday kick-off as Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fàbregas and Pedro Rodriguez replaced Carles Puyol, Jordi Alba, Alex Song, Andrés Iniesta and David Villa respectively. That meant starts for Gerard Piqué and Lionel Messi – despite Wednesday’s upcoming UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg clash with AC Milan at the San Siro. Clearly, Barcelona were not prepared to take Granada lightly; and with such a strong line-up the pressure was on Barça to claim their second away La Liga victory of 2013.

Barcelona started brightly, as Lionel Messi – who was looking to notch his 300th goal in Blaugrana colours – split the Granada defense after just four minutes, with an exceptional through ball to find the run of Alexis Sánchez, but the Chilean’s touch deserted him and he couldn’t capitalise on a good opportunity. Despite conceding that early chance, Granada remained full of confidence, and who could blame them? With two wins in their two matches under new coach Lucas Alcaraz, Granada have distanced themselves from the relegation zone and really, they had nothing to lose by going toe-to-toe with the league leaders. Thanks to excellent work on the counter-attack by Odion Ighalo, Granada were able to exert some pressure on the Barcelona defense, and following a cross from Allan Nyom, Nolito registered the game’s first shot on target, testing Victor Valdés with a well-struck effort from the edge of the Barça penalty area.

Barcelona on the other hand – despite dominating possession – were not even close to testing Tono, thanks in part to some wasteful passing. Don’t get me wrong, Barcelona were passing the ball very well in general, but whenever they entered the final third, they simply lost their magic touch. Crosses were just a fraction behind the midfield runners, and if they did find their intended target, those crosses were simply too difficult to direct goalwards. Thiago came the closest, but even then, he couldn’t keep his header down and the chance went amiss. Even when played clean-through on goal, the Barça attack still couldn’t find the target as Alexis Sánchez (who else?) simply waited too long to pull the trigger and was promptly robbed off the ball by the spirited Granada defense.

It was an excellent block challenge from the Granada defense and, to their credit, as soon as they won possession, they looked to attack. They knew that Barcelona were fielding a “weakened” team, and they also knew that Barcelona have a somewhat suspect defense; the only question was, could Granada take advantage? Breaking away down the right-hand side, Aranda delivered a magnificent cross, where he found former-Barça starlet Nolito unmarked at the far post. Nolito might have been going for goal; he might have meant to square the ball to Ighalo, all that mattered is that he did and the Nigerian forward turned the ball home to give Granada they lead.

Sure, Barça were behind, but it wasn’t the end of the world. There was over an hour left to play, and with players like Lionel Messi, Cesc Fàbregas and Pedro on the field, surely Barcelona would fight back?

Barça finally managed to record their first couple of shots on target on 36 and 38 minutes respectively, and both fell to their top-scorer, Lionel Messi, but unfortunately, Leo first wasted a free-kick and then he couldn’t direct his first-time shot past the imposing frame of Tono. The Blaugrana were forced into an early change just moments later, as Jordi Alba replaced the injured Adriano, but even the influential left-back couldn’t change Barcelona’s fortunes in front of goal – at least not immediately. Whether they were saving themselves for Milan, or whether they were just playing badly, there can be no denying that Barcelona deserved to be behind headed into the break.

But what match is won in the first-half?

Barcelona remerged from the half-time break as the better side, and they finally made their possession count, equalising within five minutes of the restart. There was a touch of fortune surrounding the equalising goal, as Tono parried Cesc Fàbregas’ shot back into play – a rare mistake from the veteran keeper – and he was made to pay for that error as Lionel Messi pounced on the rebound to claim his 300th goal for Barcelona. It wasn’t his best strike, but you have to admit, the guy has impeccable timing and Jordi Roura who usually cuts a reserved figure on the sidelines, was visibly delighted by his side’s improvement.

The first half may have been tough to watch, but following the half-time team-talk, Barcelona were back. They were pressing each and every Granada player, they were accurate with virtually all of their passes; Granada simply couldn’t cope. Thanks to an offside flag, they remained on level terms as Barça had a perfectly legal goal ruled out thanks to an incorrect decision; but the respite proved to be temporary. Cristian Tello was brought on for the wasteful Alexis Sánchez, and Barcelona continued to press forward in search of a victory.

Pedro rattled the woodwork with a well-struck effort from the edge of the Granada area on 65 minutes and he looked to have gone one better just a minute later, finishing Dani Alves’ selfless low cross with aplomb, but again the assistant referee raised his flag – this time correctly ruling out what would have been Barcelona’s second goal of the evening. Unfortunately, Pedro was then taken off, although we can’t complain with the calibre of his replacement, Andrés Iniesta. Curiously enough, Iniesta was brought on as Barça prepared to take a free-kick, and before he could even make his first touch, he was celebrating Barcelona’s second goal of the evening. Thiago won the free-kick, drawing a clumsy challenge from Granada’s substitute (and record signing) Youssef El-Arabi, and Lionel Messi stepped up to lift the ball up and over the wall, into the bottom corner of Tono’s goal. It was a sumptuous free-kick; one that looked to have secured the Blaugrana a comeback victory.

That’s not to say that Granada wouldn’t have chances to tie the game. El-Arabi should have done better with his chance on 88 minutes, wastefully heading the ball straight at the grateful grasp of Victor Valdés. Granada would go closer still in injury-time as well, as Yacine Brahimi did well to break free on the left-hand side of the Granada attack, but his toe-poked effort could only hit the side-netting and Barcelona held on for a huge victory.

Next up, Barcelona travel to Italy where they will face AC Milan in the first-leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 encounter, before hosting Sevilla at the Camp Nou. Until then, Visca el Barça!


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