Culés are at a loss today, as FC Barcelona’s La Liga title hopes were brutally ended by the most unlikeliest of opposition – Granada CF. The plucky hosts defended well, were fortunate to have a keeper in splendid form and efficiently took their chances to secure a valuable 1-0 win as they look to secure their status in the top flight for another year.
With Marc Bartra struggling with a muscle injury, FC Barcelona head coach Gerardo Martino was forced to field Sergio Busquets in the heart of defense tonight, meaning a rare start at pivote for Alex Song. Martin Montoya also started, replacing one of Wednesday night’s most frustrating performers, Dani Alves with Adriano replacing Jordi Alba on the other side of defense. Those changes aside, it was an unchanged XI for Martino; would the Blaugrana be able to bounce back and reclaim top spot with a win?
Barça started the match promisingly, attacking with intent, pace and hunger; three factors that were desperately missing from Wednesday’s defeat against Atletico Madrid. Of course, much of this could be attributed to the quality of the opposition rather than a change in tactics from Martino. This was the usual Barcelona style after all, only Granada were nowhere near as disciplined as Atleti.
It didn’t take Barcelona long to create their first real chance of the game; Xavi’s searching cross found the intelligent run of Martin Montoya, who was ghosting in behind the Granada defense unnoticed at the back post, but the Catalan full-back couldn’t direct his headed shot past Orestis Karnezis. It wasn’t an easy chance, but one couldn’t help but feel disappointed with the quality of Montoya’s effort.
Especially given the events that followed.
With a makeshift backline, Barcelona were always going to give Granada chances. It was unavoidable, entirely expected and predictably costly. Yacine Brahimi sprung the offside trap with a tremendously timed run, overpowered Martin Montoya and finished Fran Rico’s sublime through ball with a sumptuously cool strike. Despite losing their previous three La Liga fixtures, Granada were leading the reigning champions.
How would Barcelona respond? After a week of setbacks, this could have been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. Our season was unfolding before our very eyes, and the players recognised that. They fought back, or at least tried to.
Lionel Messi and Adriano both went close; Neymar and Cesc Fàbregas both saw shots blocked, before the Brazilian tested the Granada keeper with a speculative effort that nearly paid dividends. Indeed, Neymar was our standout performer in the opening 45 minutes, while Messi again looked subdued and somewhat ineffective. Subject to some rough treatment from the opposing defense, Neymar seemed to be one of the only Barça players truly invested in the game.
His determination and drive was creating the bulk of Barcelona’s best moments – even if it did lead to a few unnecessary decisions, like his petulant kick on Allan Nyom. But just as Barcelona seemed to be building into the match, Granada nearly got a second goal to extend their cushion. Jose Manuel Pinto spilt a shot from Piti, scrambled to recover and made two excellent follow-up saves – only for the offside flag to render them irrelevant anyway.
They may have had the better of the play, but Barcelona remained a goal behind entering the half-time break; was the curtain coming down on Barça’s title hopes?
In truth, the Blaugrana started the second half slowly. It took them nearly ten minutes to register a shot, but when it came, it signalled the start of an extended period of pressure for the visitors. Cesc Fàbregas took the shot; forcing an incredible save from the Granada goalkeeper who went on to produce a string of exceptional stops, denying Neymar, Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets a deserved equaliser. All the while, the clock kept on ticking. Hopes began to fade and before we knew it, the final ten minutes were upon us. Alexis Sánchez had been brought on in place of Sergio Busquets and Barça were going for broke.
But it wasn’t good enough.
For this team at least, La Liga is over.