After the excitement of a midweek UEFA Champions League win against Manchester City, FC Barcelona must turn their attentions back to the La Liga title race, as they look to get their domestic campaign back on track with a win against Granada CF. For the second successive week, Barça will be kicking off at 16:00 CET on a Saturday – a starting time that we have traditionally struggled to adapt to and find our usual rhythm.
Indeed, the quintessential example of this came just last week; a lacklustre, lethargic Barcelona outfit boasting all its star names succumbed to a shock 0-1 defeat against Malaga CF, leaving the Blaugrana four points adrift of league leaders, Real Madrid. Certainly, there can be no repeat of that dismal performance this week if Barça wish to keep their title hopes alive.
In fact, this weekend may yet turn out to be a good one for Luis Enrique; a win against Granada would temporarily close the gap back down to one point and a somewhat out of sorts Real Madrid face a tough test in Villarreal. Who knows? Maybe the Yellow Submarine are capable of stealing a point, or even grabbing all three at the Santiago Bernabeu and this weekend could merely be the latest twist in this season’s epic title battle?
Of course, it’s all conjecture at this point: a series of "what ifs" engineered to promote a sense of optimism in the face of difficult circumstances. Real Madrid will probably win regardless and maintain their healthy lead over the Blaugrana – but either way, Barça simply have to get a result.
Irrespective of their league position, Granada will pose a tough test for Lucho’s side as well; they might be languishing near the foot of the table but their home form is strong and many a side have visited the Nuevo Los Carmenes this season only to leave frustrated. Will Barça suffer a similar fate, or can they find a way to break down one of the league’s toughest home defenses?
Great news everyone! Douglas is back from injury and has received the medical green light to return to competitive action! I know, it’s tough to contain your excitement at this wonderful news...oh wait, no-one really cares about him. Instead, it’s far more useful to focus on the real team news starting with Gerard Piqué’s suspension and ending with, well, Gerard Piqué’s suspension.
The Catalan centre-half picking up his fifth yellow card of the season last weekend against Malaga gives us our only new absence, as the rest of the squad negotiated the week without picking up any new injuries or suspensions.
Therefore, Luis Enrique virtually has a full complement at his disposal and the only question is whether he chooses to rest some star names before next Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semi-final second-leg against Villarreal CF.
In goal, Claudio Bravo will return between the sticks and he is likely to be shielded by a defense of Dani Alves, Marc Bartra, Jeremy Mathieu and Jordi Alba. There is a possibility that Adriano Correia will rotate in to fill one of the full-back positions ahead of Alves or Alba, although I suspect that Enrique will stick with his usual starters and rotate in the heart of defense instead.
In midfield, I’m tipping Javier Mascherano to be pushed forward to pivote to enable Busquets to rest ahead of the Villarreal clash, with Xavi and Ivan Rakitić posted ahead of the Argentine in the two advanced roles. Xavi’s ability to dictate the tempo and control possession will mitigate Busquets’ absence perfectly, while Rakitić provides the work-rate and that different dimension that could prove to be critical in breaking down the Granada defense.
Moving forward to the attack, the consensus is that Neymar would benefit from a rest – and it’s tough not to agree. Expect to see Pedro Rodriguez rotate back into the side with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez both looking to build on the excellent form they displayed in the midweek win over Manchester City. While he hasn’t been used there often, don’t count out Rafinha potentially making an appearance on the wing either, albeit as a substitute off the bench.
Only two sides have visited Granada this season and scored more than once: Real Madrid, who notched four in their fixture at Nuevo Los Carmenes in November and Sevilla, who grabbed two in the Copa Del Rey in early January. Valencia, Villarreal, Real Sociedad and most recently, Athletic Bilbao, have all left disappointed and frustrated with a single point. There is an upside though: Granada have won just once in their last 14 fixtures and twice in their last 24, while top-scorer Youssef El-Arabi is suspended after a straight red card in an ill-tempered defeat to Levante last weekend.
FC Barcelona 6-0 Granada CF – 27th September 2014 – La Liga
The Blaugrana were at their scintillating best on this fine autumnal afternoon at the Camp Nou, as a hat-trick from Neymar and a brace from Lionel Messi sent Barça on their way to an emphatic win over their luckless visitors.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Bartra, Mathieu, Alba; Mascherano, Xavi, Rakitić; Messi, Suarez, Pedro
Granada (4-2-3-1): Oier; Nyom, Babin, Murrillo, Foulquier; Iturra, Rico; Bangoura, Success, Candeias; Cordoba
This isn’t going to be easy; we’re going to have to fight for this and while I back us to come out on top, it’s going to be close until relatively late on. 2-0 Barça.
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