Barcelona 2 – 0 Granada: An Unexpected ThrillerBy: kelsey | September 23rd, 2012
If someone said that they expected this game to be as close as it was they would be lying. Yes, Barcelona dominated the ball and the chances, but Granada’s defense, especially their superhuman keeper, were very much up to the task, and it took a wonderful save from Valdes and sublime shot from Xavi in the dying minutes to put this one away. Given Barca was playing at home against a team that has struggled to stay in the top division that’s not exactly the match we expected to see, but it did make for a highly entertaining game. Think Iniesta summed it up best, “Heart-attack match! Really difficult, but we finally managed to get the three points, what a goal by Xavi!” (Thanks for the translation, Ade!).
Since Barca has already started to run into some injury problems especially in the back with the moc moc twins out of commission and King Abi’s longterm absence, Tito got a bit creative with the line up. Our newest signing got a starting spot in back with Masch, along with the Brazilians on either side, then Fab, Thiago, and Busi started in the middle of the pitch as Xavi was due for a bit of rest and the Don’s still sidelined for another week or two, and Tito gave the nod to Leo, Alexis, and Villa up top. Wonderful to see el Guaje back in the starting line up after nine months out! Xavi, Alba, Bartra, Tello, Pedro and Sergi Roberto sat the bench. On the Granada side, Toño, keeper extraordinaire, Nyom, Iñigo López, Borja Gómez, Siqueira, Iriney, Mikel Rico, Torje, Brahimi, Orellana, Floro Flores, started.
Notions of this game being an easy victory were dispelled in the opening minutes of the match with Granada coming at our makeshift CB pairing twice getting shots off and pressing hard against the Barca midfield creating turnovers. The din of Barca fans’ muttering about Tito’s decision to start Song in an unfamiliar position over the young Bartra grew louder, but tapered off later as Song repaid Tito for his faith with excellent defending throughout the rest of the match.
On the other end, Barca threatened early as well with Dani sending a lovely pass over the top to Messi, who beat the offside trap only to see his shot deflected out of play at the last second. Barca’s first corner, like the many to follow, was woefully ineffective. Soon after though Dani sent yet another lovely ball in, this time for Thiago, only to see it intercepted and herded back to the keeper.
Working hard though not yet firing on all cylinders, it was clear the Barca offense was still feeling its way a bit without the Maestro controlling, and with Villa and Thiago so recently back. Messi orchestrated a number of chances, but Cesc, who can’t buy a goal right now, saw a rocket of a shot stopped. Then Thiago’s shot later went well wide of goal.
With so many players pushed forward, Granada had a couple decent chances on the counter. After a very unusual giveaway by Busi in the middle, Valdes did well to deflect the ensuing shot over the top. Then Dani made a magnificent tackle to stop a counter when there was no other defenders in the area. Otherwise, Barca set up shop around the Granada box but couldn’t get anything through the human Granada wall to the great frustration of Leo Messi who certainly is not used to being denied. Before the half time whistle was blown, Messi vented his frustration at Villa for holding onto the ball for a bit too long before passing setting the gossipmongers’ tongues wagging over the squabble. Of course after the game Tito, Leo, and Villa all laid to rest the ridiculous notion of a feud between the two players with el Guaje showing much class stating, “If Messi scolds at me, it’ll be for something. I love him.”
Tito’s pep talk must’ve worked its magic as after the half the players showed a greater sense of urgency passing quicker and cleaner. Tito also wasted no time introducing Xavi and Pedro in for Thiago and Villa, and el Maestro had an immediate impact controlling the tempo and distribution. While Barca had a series of opportunities to go ahead with Messi, Alexis, Xavi, and Cesc all having great chances, Granada battled to keep the score level and even managed to threaten on the other end only to see Dani block a shot at the top of the box then VV stand tall in a one on one situation to deny Granada late.
While Xavi nearly started celebrated after he whipped a shot in that seemed destined for net a bit earlier in the half that the keeper somehow managed to turn away, he had real cause to celebrate in the 87th minute when he scored an absolute golazo and finally put Barca on the scoresheet. After good orchestration around the box, Xavi got the ball at the top of the circle and hit a wonder strike with the outside of his foot that curled to the far top corner of the goal, bounced off the woodwork, and went in. Soon a second followed for Barca with Leo in fit of competitive rage (if anyone ever doubts Messi’s drive to win they should watch this match) burst through a pack of defenders on the far side of the net and sent a lovely cross to Pedro at the far post wrongfooting a defender who buried it in the back of his own net.
Overall a very entertaining match to watch. The lethargy Barca sometimes operated with last season when facing lower ranked opponents has not been seen at all this season. To the contrary here where Barca, and especially Messi, were at a near frenzy toward the end of this match. Also, liked seeing Tito attack to get the 3 points opting to go all out with a 3 – 4 – 3 formation at the end of the match replacing Adriano with Tello instead of Alba. Greater the risk, greater the reward. Clear now Tito’s hoping (needing) to convert Song to a CB when needed a la Mascherano, and seemed like a workable strategy this game. Will be interesting to see Song’s progression as Barca enters into a difficult couple weeks of the season with a few big games coming up.
Valdes – 8.5: Wonderful save by Valdes to deny Granada a late goal, and made a few other nice stops to get his first clean sheet of the season.
Alves – 8.5: Great defending by Dani (not a part of his game that is usually lauded) and some nice crosses into the box. Strong performance.
Song – 8: Looked comfortable in an unfamiliar position, which is impressive in general, but especially so given Barca’s high back line and style of play. Trusted enough to even play as the lone CB when Tello came in for Adriano late and handled it well.
Masch – 8: Please stay healthy. Please stay healthy. Masch and VV’s stalwart presences in the back calm the nerves.
Adriano – 6.5: A bit off in the first half, but looked good in the second half before apparently getting yet another injury. I want to like Adriano, I do, but…meh.
Thiago – 6.5: Good to see him back on the pitch again though still has some kinks to work out. Nice runs into the box and generally good passes; couldn’t control the game the way Xavi does, but then, who can?
Busi – 8: Great game, helping out all over the pitch especially on D when needed, a couple atypical errant passes early on, but otherwise very strong.
Cesc – 7: The great scoring drought continues, but otherwise solid game linking up well with our offense (Messi).
Alexis – 6.5: Better in the second half than the first; good work rate and speed though sometimes missing the final touch and seems to go to ground quite easily.
Messi – 8.5: Would not be denied eventually causing the own goal. Created havoc for the defense all game long.
Villa – 7: So happy to see him back that the rating is a bit better than the performance probably deserved!
Xavi – 9: MOTM! Though playing less than half the game Xavi certainly left his stamp on it, not only pulling the strings from the center of the pitch, but also by scoring a golazo of a game winning goal.
Pedro – 8: Wonderful form Pedrito is in, he also had a real impact when he came on the pitch.
Tello – 8: Very good, lots of touches, good movement, created a great scoring opportunity toward the end. Should be promoted to the first team permanently (and a wonder that he hasn’t been yet).