FC Barcelona return to action after a difficult international break tomorrow, as they prepare to take on Granada CF at the Camp Nou. The Blaugrana will undoubtedly be hoping to emulate their eternal rivals tomorrow afternoon, and wrap up a comfortable victory in Saturday afternoon's early kick-off. Of course, Real Madrid hosted Real Sociedad at the same kick off time prior to the international break and emerged 5-1 winners to temporarily close the gap on Gerardo Martino's league leaders.
Tomorrow's visitors have won their last two fixtures and even pushed Atletico Madrid to the limit a few weeks ago, only losing 2-1 to Diego Simeone's side courtesy of two penalty kicks from Diego Costa and David Villa. With Barcelona facing something of an injury crisis, could Granada take advantage and become just the second side this season to claim points off of Martino's seemingly unstoppable Blaugrana juggernaut?
Lionel Messi is injured, Xavi is injured, Dani Alves is injured; even Victor Valdes is injured. It seems as though the injury bug has well and truly bitten the Catalans over the past few weeks and as a result, Martino will be forced into making a number of changes for tomorrow's clash.
Just for starters, Jose Manuel Pinto will start in goal for the first time this La Liga campaign in what may turn out to be his final season in a Barcelona jersey, as rumours continue to circulate claiming that Barça are looking for not one but two keepers this summer. And in that sense, maybe this will be beneficial for the Blaugrana. Just as Victor Valdes has stepped up his game in search of a new deal elsewhere, maybe Pinto will raise his game to either earn a new deal at the Camp Nou or thrust himself back into the spotlight as he plans his career after the Camp Nou.
With Dani Alves sidelined, Martin Montoya will start at right-back hoping to continue his recent run pf good form, with Adriano likely to continue on the other flank as Jordi Alba continues his recovery from injury. Marc Bartra may be confident of a start given the praise he has received in the past few weeks and months, although it may be more realistic to expect Gerard Piqué to start alongside Carles Puyol or Javier Mascherano given the similarities between Bartra and Piqué.
Sergio Busquets will likely retain his usual place at pivote, although in Xavi and Lionel Messi's absence, there may be room for either Sergi Roberto or even Alex Song in a more advanced midfield role alongside Andres Iniesta.
In attack, Messi's injury suggests that Cesc Fabregas will start at false nine, but equally Xavi's injury has left Barça a little short of cover in the centre of the field; so maybe Cesc will start in midfield? In that situation, Neymar would almost certainly lead the frontline with Jean-Marie Dongou as a capable back-up. Alexis Sanchez could start on the right after his brace against England while Pedro could start on the left after his relatively impressive display against Real Betis.
Granada coach Lucas Alcaraz has challenged his side to show their "identity" tomorrow when they make their trip down to Catalunya, as he realises just how rare an opportunity this could be for his side. With Barcelona facing that injury crisis, Granada arguably stand their best chance of securing a memorable result at the Camp Nou -- and they cannot just play for the draw.
Granada CF 1-2 FC Barcelona - 16 February 2013 - La Liga
A brace from Lionel Messi was enough to overturn Odion Ighalo's opener and secure a valuable three points for Barcelona.
Barcelona: (4-3-3): Pinto; Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano; Busquets, Fabregas, Iniesta; Sanchez, Neymar, Pedro
Granada (4-2-3-1): Roberto; Nyom, Diakhate, Murillo, Angulo; Rico, Iturra; Buonanotte. Brahimi, Piti; El Arabi
Barcelona may be missing a host of key names, but I doubt they will be missing their quality; especially given the talent in the side. I'm going for a 3-1 home win.