FC Barcelona return to La Liga action tomorrow following the final international break of the season, as they travel to Andalusia to take on Granada CF at the Nuevo Los Carmenes. The Blaugrana famously secured their 24th La Liga title in Granada last season, as a Luis Suarez hat-trick was enough for Barça to retain their crown, and while they are of course unable to secure the title with a win this season, securing the three points is just as important as we enter the final stages of the campaign.
As things stand, FC Barcelona are two points behind Real Madrid, with the league leaders still holding a game-in-hand over the Blaugrana. At worst, the gap to the top could be five points and Barcelona desperately need to start closing that gap to continue piling the pressure on ahead of this month’s pivotal El Clasico showdown.
With both sides facing tougher fixtures in the next week (Barcelona host Sevilla, while Real contest the Madrid derby), it could be a crucial seven days in the La Liga title race. As always, the first step for Luis Enrique is to focus on the immediate task at hand, and despite Granada’s poor form, he knows his side will be in for a difficult test. Not only are the Blaugrana traditionally poor after the international break, but they will be without two of their most influential players, as Lionel Messi misses out through suspension while Gerard Pique has been left out of the squad.
The focus therefore will be on whether Luis Suarez can continue his run of good form against Granada, and whether Neymar will continue to dazzle and amaze, particularly in Messi’s absence. Likewise, will Luis Enrique continue to experiment with the 3-4-3, or will the absence of Pique see him revert back to a more orthodox tactical approach?
As referenced above, Lionel Messi misses out through suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Valencia. Gerard Pique is being rested, while Arda Turan and Jeremy Mathieu both continue to miss out through injury alongside long-term absentees, Jordi Masip and Aleix Vidal. As a result, Carles Alena has been called up to the squad from the B team and could therefore feature off the bench.
With a difficult match to come in midweek against Sevilla, Enrique could opt to rotate his squad, making full use of some of the fringe players. I suspect therefore that he will return to a 4-3-3, with Lucas Digne, Javier Mascherano, Samuel Umtiti and Sergi Roberto starting in defense. In midfield, Sergio Busquets will anchor the side, but I suspect that our club captain, Andres Iniesta, will be afforded a rest. In his place, Denis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic are likely to start, particularly as the Croatian returned early from his duties with his national team.
The absence of Messi and Arda Turan will likely result in a start on the right-wing for Rafinha Alcantara, although it would be interesting to see if Paco Alcacer is granted a rare start.
The good news for head coach, Lucas Alvarez, is that Colombian striker Adrian Ramos has been cleared to return to action and could therefore feature in tomorrow’s match. Ramos has a couple of goals to his name since joining in the winter transfer window, and he could be a huge boost, particularly as Moroccan international, Mehdi Carcela is set to miss out after returning from international duty with a muscle injury.
FC Barcelona 1-0 Granada CF – 29th October 2016 – La Liga
A solitary goal from Rafinha was enough to separate the two sides, as Granada frustrated the hosts for long periods, even if their effort ultimately wasn’t enough to secure a share of the spoils.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Mascherano, Umtiti, Digne; Busquets, Rakitic, Denis; Rafinha, Suarez, Neymar
Granada (5-4-1): Ochoa; Foulquier, Saunier, Ingason, Silva, Litri; Boga, Agbo, Wakaso, Andreas; Ramos
The FIFA virus will impact the performance, but not the result. 2-0 to the visitors.