Twenty seconds into the game, and Xavi was already made to pay for the decision to drop his pivot.
Gavi and Ilkay Gundogan have logged big minutes this season, and looked like they needed a rest. But given the injuries to key players, they had to play, but would have been better off with the cover of Oriol Romeu.
It wasn’t an easy job that Xavi had going into this one. But the prudent move may have been to prioritize defensive and structural stability.
That’s where Romeu makes sense. He isn’t exciting, but he knows the position, and he’s reliable on both sides of the ball.
Now Barcelona are in third place in the domestic table, and three points behind Real Madrid, with Atletico Madrid trailing shortly behind.
This season in Spain is looking intriguing, and it may end up a war of attrition, where the best path forward is to minimize unforced errors, and collect the three points every time against bottom of the table teams.
This one against Granada hurts, but we should keep the result within perspective.
The lesson learned may be that in the short term, keep it simple. The depth is thin, and Barcelona needs to buy time.
Having Romeu on the field allows every else the ability to know their role, and do the bare minimum of what’s expected of them.
Having Gavi and Gundogan fill in was a mistake. Gundogan is at least old enough and wise enough to know his limitations, and choose when to play it safe, and higher up the field, when to take risks.
Gavi has a lot to offer, but he can also be naive and should be protected from himself. Turning into the danger while playing out of the back was an amateur move for a midfielder. Gavi, however, plays with the confidence of a boy who has nothing to lose, which plays to his advantage at times. Well-drilled defensive midfielders, however, would never have tried that.
When Romeu came into the game, Barcelona settled down, eased their way into the game, and almost completed the comeback. Frankly, the offside rule that called back the goal from Joao Felix should be re-evaluated. This team deserved the three points after not giving up, and going for it until the end.
Romeu was on the field for about 15 minutes, but it was enough to see that Barcelona need him on the field going forward. At least until Frenkie de Jong is back.
In fact, it was the 75 minutes without Romeu that showed how much he was missed,
Frenkie makes the team more special, and he’s smart enough tactically, and talented enough technically, to upgrade the team, and allow them to play without Romeu, if they want more attacking firepower.
But with Frenkie out, Romeu is now indispensable.
Barcelona needs to play for the win every time, and not worry about putting in the perfect performance.
That means making sure they are solid on the backline, and that they have Romeu in the pivot keeping the team organized, and able to make good decisions on the ball, while being capable of stepping in to make the defensive play when required.
Luckily, the team now has time to rest and recover, and get ready for a stretch of important games when play resumes after the international break.
The Champions League is the least of their worries, although they shouldn’t overlook the back-to-back matches against Shakhtar Donetsk. There may be some space for rotation here if a few players get back healthy.
With Athletic Club, Real Madrid, and Real Sociedad looming, that’s where the season could be made or broken.
Assume that Barcelona will still be underhanded at that point. What’s the best approach to these fixtures?
First, shore up the backline. With Jules Kounde going off injured, this strategy is a bit complicated, but now’s the time to put faith in Inigo Martinez and get things done in front of goal.
Ask Martinez, Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen, and Alejandro Balde to lock things down, alongside Romeu who can keep the line calm and secure in front of them.
The forwards may not be world class at the moment, but Joao Felix, Ferran Torres, and Lamine Yamal have enough in them to get a goal or two to secure the victory.
Joao Cancelo needs to be on the field, but the question will remain whether he’s most needed as a full-back, or further up the pitch to provide creativity that’s missing with his high-profile team-mates still in recovery mode.
For now, let’s hope the Barcelona players who are available aren’t overused during the international break.
The fixtures coming up afterwards may be the most important of the season.
Barca doesn’t have to be pretty, but they have to be effective.
That starts with being focused, and they weren’t to start the game against Granada.
El Clasico will be a good measuring stick to see where this Barca team stands, and if they have what it takes to make a run for another title.