FC Barcelona will be looking to extend their winning streak to four matches tomorrow night, as they welcome Granada CF to the Camp Nou. At the start of the season, Culés would have earmarked this fixture as a must-watch encounter, as former Rayo Vallecano coach and football purist, Paco Jemez, was announced as the new man in charge in Andalusia. Of course, Barcelona’s matches with Paco Jemez and Rayo were always entertaining, goal-laden affairs – but after six matches with a win to start his reign at Nuevo Los Carmenes, Jemez was given the boot.
As such, tomorrow’s match becomes less of a “must-watch” from an aesthetic perspective, and more of a potential banana skin as Lucas Alcarez looks to mastermind another upset against the title-chasing Blaugrana.
In his previous La Liga stint, it’s fair to say that Alcarez didn’t have the best of times against Barcelona; his Levante side were on the receiving end of two Manitas in the 2014-15 season – but in 2013-14, it was Barcelona’s visit and subsequent defeat against Alcarez in his previous spell at Granada that arguably cost them the title. No doubt he will have played the tape of that match back to his current squad in a bid to inspire them; the question is whether it will have made any difference.
Despite Jemez’ dismissal, Granada have not shown any signs of improvement in recent weeks. Without a permanent coach on the sidelines, they lost at home to Leganes before the international break, and even with Alcarez installed as their new manager, results have not improved. A humbling 7-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid must rank as the lowest point of their season to date and while it can be argued that their goalless draw with Sporting Gijon in Jornada 9 was an improvement, it should also be considered that their failure to win that match ensured they remain five points removed from safety.
In other words, this isn’t the ideal time for Granada to be visiting the Camp Nou.
And so, with a UEFA Champions League group stage visit to Manchester to think about in midweek, where Barcelona will again lock horns with former coach, Pep Guardiola, the only real concern that Luis Enrique will have headed into this match is complacency. It’s apparent that Granada are unlikely to have the quality to beat us – it’s up to us to ensure that we don’t take that for granted and that we still deliver a professional performance to keep the pressure on both Real Madrid and Sevilla.
After providing the majority of his first team squad with a well-deserved midweek mini-holiday, Luis Enrique will be hoping to see no signs of rustiness from his players. It’s true that he still has some injuries concerns to deal with, as Jasper Cillessen, Arda Turan and Rafinha Alcantara are all game-time decisions, while Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Jeremy Mathieu and Jordi Alba are certain to miss out – but overall, the squad is still strong enough to not only beat Granada, but make a statement.
Ideally, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be looking to keep his third successive home clean sheet – and while we established that both Pique and Alba are going to miss out, he will still be able to count on a strong defense. Sergi Roberto may be rested ahead of the UEFA Champions League and Sevilla double-header that we have coming up in the next week or so, and that could mean a return for the 3-4-3 system that Enrique has been experimenting with this campaign.
Javier Mascherano would occupy the role in the centre, with Samuel Umtiti on the left and Marlon (who featured in the Catalan Super Cup in midweek) could feature on the right. Of course, if Roberto is rested, Enrique could easily keep a back four – but that would mean recalling Aleix Vidal from the wilderness, or handing Nili his first La Liga start. At this stage, both seem equally unlikely.
In midfield, I expect to see Sergio Busquets start – and then later be substituted out – and the other three spots are very much up for grabs. With Rafinha a doubt for tomorrow’s match, I suspect that Enrique will abandon the 3-4-3 in favour of a more orthodox approach. Denis Suarez would be used in the “Iniesta” spot, and Ivan Rakitic would likely accompany him on the right-hand side of the central pairing – with Lucas Digne slotting into defense to provide the natural width on the left. If he is fit, I would be very intrigued to see Arda in the left-midfield position of a 3-4-3, operating behind Neymar – but that may have to wait for another day.
In attack, let’s not kid ourselves; the MSN will start, and they’re probably going to score a lot of goals. I know what you’re thinking – it’s overkill to start them all and we can dispatch Granada while resting at least one of them – but consider that they could put this game to bed in the first half and easily walk through the rest. Sometimes rest doesn’t have to include sitting on the bench.
With Paco Jemez in charge, Granada bolstered their squad in the summer with one of La Masia’s crown jewels, as Sergi Samper was loaned in to high expectations. In a squad that already boasted a bunch of former Barcelona, Barcelona B and La Masia talent, such as Oier Olazabal, David Lomban, Isaac Cuenca and Jon Toral, we all hoped that Samper would be able to establish himself as a regular.
However, with Jemez gone, Samper has found opportunities harder to come by, as he was left out of the squad altogether for Granada’s last match against Sporting Gijon. Lucas Alcarez prefers to play a 4-2-2-2 in the style of Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid – albeit with lesser players. That means a combative double-pivot, with hard working players positioned on the wing behind two mobile forwards.
Granada will no doubt try to play as compact as possible – but whether that will be enough remains to be seen. One suspects that damage control is about the best they can hope for.
Granada CF 0-3 FC Barcelona – 13th May 2016 – La Liga
After securing their own safety the week prior, Granada proved no match for the title-chasing Blaugrana, who secured the championship on the last matchday with a comfortable victory courtesy of a hat-trick from Luis Suarez.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Mascherano, Umtiti, Digne; Busquets, Rakitic, Denis; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Granada (4-5-1): Ochoa; Tito, Vezo, Lomban, Gabriel; Cuenca, Angban, Agbo, Marquez, Pereira; Kravets