There was no question that Wednesday's trip to Madrid was a crushing blow for Barça fans. The team was out-thought, out-run and simply out-played against an Atlético Madrid side shaped perfectly in the mould of their manager Diego Simeone. The Catalan press didn't hold back and neither did the world press. They called it the cumulation of months of behind-the-scenes antics. Fans wanted a new board, Lionel Messi took a hammering as did Neymar and the end of an era talk was stronger then ever.
But while these are all poignant points, let's not forgot the league title (and the Copa del Rey) is very much within Barça's grasp. After next Wednesday Barcelona, unlike Real and Atlético Madrid, will only be competing in one tournament. Which means they should be fresher and Tata Martino's rotation policy isn't needed. The strongest XI week after week regardless of opposition.
The next step in the road to the title is an away trip to Granada and if Barcelona want to prove they are still a juggernaut of world football, there can be no slip up. Out of the three title contenders, Barcelona play first meaning they can apply some pressure on the others with a win. It needs to be a strong win as well, one that shows they mean business going into the final stretch of the season.
The main headline for Barcelona is that Marc Bartra doesn't make the squad. The 23 year old pulled his right hamstring during Friday morning's training session and is being rested as a precautionary measure. Bartra joins the long list of inured defenders for Barça as Víctor Valdés, Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol all remain on the treatment table. Isaac Cuenca, Jonathan Dos Santos and Ibrahim Afellay complete the absentee list.
With Bartra's injury, Martino may opt for a less then conventional back for. Under-fire keeper José Manuel Pinto will start in goal and Jordi Alba will start at left-back. Martín Montoya has been out of favour recently which means Dani Alves is likely to retain his place in the team but the choice of centre-backs become less clear cut. Javier Mascherano will start and then Martino has a couple of options to choose from. He can select Adriano who has played in the centre on occasion or pull Sergio Busquets deeper, maybe even Alex Song. Personally I'd go for Adriano as Busquets is required in midfield and I don't feel Song is good enough.
In midfield, if he doesn't start at the back, Sergio Busquets will play in his familiar pivot role. The two attacking midfield places can be occupied by a choice of four players. Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta started their against Atlético will Cesc Fàbregas played in the false-nine role. I think Martino will opt for the Xavi, Iniesta partnership and Fàbregas along with Sergi Roberto will start on the bench.
Upfront, I'd expect to see Martino ring the changes. Lionel Messi will move back into the centre forward and Pedro and Alexis Sánchez are likely to come in for Neymar and Fàbregas. Neymar has been on the end of a lot of criticism as of late and it wouldn't hurt to start Pedro over him for one game. Meaning it's likely we will see a front three of Pedro on the left, Messi centre and Alexis on the right.
For Granada, manager Lucas Alcaraz will be without forward Riki who suffered a muscle tear. The Spaniard picked up the injury early in last week's game against Málaga and is likely to be out for three weeks. Granada have been struck by an injury crisis all season but had appeared to be turning the corner before Riki's injury.
The good news for Alcaraz is that Piti is fit again and will retake his position as one of the front three in the team's 4-3-3 formation. Both Roberto and Rico are expected to play having recovered from a hip injury and concussion respectively. Brayan Angulo is the only player suspended.
FC Barcelona 4-0 Granada CF - 23rd November 2013 - La Liga
A penalty each from Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fàbregas combined with goals from Alexis and Pedro earned Barça the three points at the Camp Nou. Adama Traoré also became the eight youngest player to represent the club an official fixture.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto, Alves, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Alexis
Granada (4-3-3): Roberto, Nyom, Llori, Murillo, Foulquier, Iturra, Recio, Rico, Brahimi, El-Arabi, Piti
I expect a strong performance from a Barcelona side looking to restore some pride. 4-0 Barcelona.
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