FC Barcelona have a chance to redeem their recent performances when they travel to play Granada tomorrow evening. The world is still focused on the ludicrous racism allegations surrounding Cesc Fabregas, and the Madridista support have taken this opportunity to reaffirm their hatred for everything Blaugrana. Suddenly, the Catalan club is the one of racists, despite that shameful night involving the England National team occurring at the Bernabeu.
Anyway, I digress from my hatred of hypocrisy and Madridista ignorance to talk about the match tomorrow, and its significance for Barcelona’s season. It would be a massive over-reaction to brandish the past two matches a failure, but any dropped points tomorrow will spell disaster. Granada are a newly-promoted side, and are basically half Granada and half Udinese.
Last season, Granada went to the Mini Estadi to face Barca B, and lost 4-0. Now this should show how tomorrow’s game should pan out, but we all know how silly a game football can be.
Granada have vastly improved their squad since promotion, mainly with loan signings. Experienced players such as Noe Pamarot, Pape Diakhate, Hassan Yebda and Carlos Martins are gracing the turf at Los Carmenes, and they are doing a little better than expected. Not quite rooted to the bottom of the table, Granada occupies the final relegation spot, and if they can string out a fight for survival, it will be some accomplishment.
That being said, they have some pretty major problems. They are yet to score a goal before half-time in La Liga, and away from home, they are simply abysmal. They have only managed two goals so far this season, and that is in spite of the loan signing of starlet Franco Jara. Simply put, Granada are finding life in the top flight very difficult, although their one saving grace has been their adequate home form.
All of their five points have come at home, and they have lost just the once at Los Carmenes. Granada have only conceded twice at home, and this could prove worrisome for Barcelona if the front-three play as badly as Saturday.
That is why Pep Guardiola has one of his biggest tests ahead of him tomorrow evening. Everyone expects Barcelona to win this game comfortably. He MUST ensure that the players do not approach the game with the same complacency the media is showing. Not only that but Guardiola has to win, and nothing less than a convincing decimation will appease the watching world. The past few seasons have spoilt Barcelona fans; anything less than a Manita would be a disappointment.
Did I even mention that he should be resting players as well?
Lionel Messi has been off peak in the past couple of games, or at least by his super-human standards. There is an onus on Pep Guardiola to make the hard decision to bench his Argentine superstar before the damage is done. Messi will not like it, but Guardiola needs to make him learn that playing all the time is not always the best thing. If he gives in for the umpteenth time and let’s Messi play, only to see him fire a blank again, it will be too late.
I understand the lack of replacements, I really do, but Guardiola only has himself to blame for keeping the squad size down. Then again, if the B team performed so admirably last season, why not draft in a few youngsters?
Victor Valdes will start in goal, and it comes as a relief that the Spanish custodian has been on a roll as of late. With the team struggling offensively, he has kept things sound at the defensive end meaning a solitary goal would often be enough for the victory. Valdes must also act as a defensive leader, especially in the absence of both Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol.
There is always a propensity for Barcelona to implode on the defensive side of things. Given the lack of action the rear-guard may see tomorrow, the concentration levels will have to be above the norm to compensate. It may seem weird that I am approaching this game in such a fashion, but it is paramount that Barcelona allows Granada no chance to score in the 90 minutes.
In midfield, I would presume that Sergio Busquets is the starter in that anchor man role. Seydou Keita played there on Saturday, and was simply awful. In the Barcelona system, the anchor man must be adept at dropping back to cover and form a three-man defense. Keita did not do this. So, you think about the role other defensive midfielders have in other systems, and compare them with Keita.
Is he a ball-winner that is tenacious in the tackle, like Javier Mascherano or Daniele De Rossi? Not even close. Could he be regarded as a deep-lying playmaker, like Andrea Pirlo or Xabi Alonso? I don’t think so. Maybe he is a box-to-box marauding type of midfielder, like Bastian Schweinsteiger? I wish.
Seydou Keita was mere baggage, slowing down play, taking too long to control simple passes, and despite his reputation Seydou Keita was anonymous in the physical battles. To summarize, Keita was a man without a role and not in a Lionel Messi sense either. It made no sense tactically, and surely Guardiola recognises this?
That is why Sergio Busquets must play tomorrow, and in his absence, Javier Mascherano is the ONLY replacement.
Ahead of them, Xavi and Andres Iniesta are the obvious choices. Andres Iniesta has been the only real bright-spot in a week of mediocrity, and this seems like it will continue until he is invariably struck down with a niggling injury. Xavi continued to be a consistent influence in the midfield, but he played far too many predictable passes to Dani Alves.
Sure, Xavi plays passes that simply cannot be intercepted, but they were all to the same options, and it got easier and easier to defend in a game that was screaming out for a slide-rule pass from the maestro’s magical right boot.
This predictability spilled over into the tactical approach of Pep Guardiola, with far too much onus on the wide players, and a bizarre fixation with floated crosses into the area. Do they realise that Messi is 5’6" and doesn’t even venture into the area? David Villa is not an established target man, and last time I checked, Pedro has barely ever out-jumped a centre-half for a header.
The attacking approach was odd to say the least, and this is without the amount of one-twos the front-line attempted. It should be back to basics for the Blaugrana tomorrow evening, that way Barcelona can start building on the foundations they usually rely upon in a title-winning season. There is no crisis in the Catalan capital, and whoever starts tomorrow needs to make sure we are uttering the very same words after full-time. If that means erring on the side of caution, then so be it.
Match Prediction: Barcelona to win 3-0 with Cesc Fabregas the main architect. Oh, and to lighten the mood here’s Allan Sherman!
Allan Sherman - Hello Muddah Hello Faddah (1963) (via YCSMusic)