It was expected to be a stroll in the park for Barcelona but as evidenced by the scoreline, goals were hard to come by for the La Liga champions as they laboured to a 1-0 win over bottom-of-the-table Granada
With Real Madrid and Atletico both taking wins, the pressure was on Barcelona to deliver in their late La Liga clash at the Camp Nou. However, in a visiting Granada side that sit bottom of the table in the Spanish La Liga, the game was expected to be a rout with Luis Enrique naming a near full-strength side, featuring the MSN, despite the midweek visit to Manchester City in the Champions League.
However, the game was anything but a walk in the park for the Blaugrana who were made to work for their hard-earned 1-0 victory in the end. The Hard Tackle reviews some of the key talking points and some take-aways for Enrique ahead of their visit to the Etihad on Tuesday.
MSN have an off-day
Every defence up against the trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar will be forced to be on their toes all through out the game in a bid to keep the murderous trio at bay. The task was no different for Granada on Saturday, but a 5-man defence crowded by a 4-man midfield in front of them acted like a near impenetrable wall that the Blaugrana’s famed striking attack failed to break down.
There was a lot of creativity on show from the Catalan forwards but they lacked the finishing touch and failed to put away chances that on any other night would have been buried into the back of the net. The evening effectively served as a reminder for the trio to sharpen their axes ahead of the midweek clash against Manchester City and Enrique for one would be happy the wake-up call came in three days earlier.
A win at the Etihad will all but seal their progress into the knock-out stages but Enrique will want his South American hitmen to deliver against Pep Guardiola’s side on Tuesday.
Has Rafinha sealed his ticket to Manchester?
On a day when Barcelona’s forwards failed to deliver, Rafinha was brilliant throughout and restored his manager’s faith in him with a match-winning show at the Camp Nou.
The Catalans have missed the presence of Andres Iniesta in their midfield and while there have been quite a few midfielders who tried to slip into the Spaniard’s shoes, it’s Rafinha who seems to be the best fit at the moment.
The 23-year-old came up with the goods with his 47th minute winner in a game that, up until then, cried out for presence of mind and a moment of brilliance. The midfielder has now scored 5 goals from his last 6 appearances and has well and truly earned a potential place in the starting eleven for Barcelona in the crunch clash against Manchester City in the Champions League.
Granada approach worrying precedent
Faced against a side that have shipped a league high 23 goals up until Saturday night, Barcelona with their attacking arsenal were expected to steam roll their opponents. However, Lucas Alcaraz’s Granada lined up in a 5-4-1 formation and were content on sitting deep and occasionally attacking on the counter. With a crowded back-line, penetrating the defence became a labourious ordeal for the Catalan attack.
It’s hence no surprise that the clash lacked the exuberance and fluidity in Barcelona’s football as usually observed. Worryingly for Barcelona, other teams could take a leaf out of Granada’s book and could opt to put in place similar defence-minded tactics in a bid to shut the attackers out.
That said, Barcelona played a lot of long balls with Neymar and Suarez often making darting runs behind the Granada defence only to miss out due to a poor touch or finish.
Therefore, in games were teams decide to stay deep and defend, chances will be hard to come and it is in such games and situations that Barcelona will need their strike trio to deliver picking up the half-chances that stamp their class and quality on the game.
Impressive Sergi Roberto quietly goes about job
The 24-year-old hasn’t been Dani Alves-esque in his stint at right-back but in recent weeks he is certainly showing signs of settling into the role and could cement his place over an erratic and error-prone Aleix Vidal.
The youngster, along with Rafinha, was among Barcelona’s bright sparks on the night against Granada and that earmarks the significant growth he’s made with the first team over the course of the last year.
The Blaugrana have been fervently on the look out for a right-back throughout the summer since Alves’ departure to Juventus but they may well have found a solution, even if a short-term one, in Roberto.
With that kind of performance in his locker, the youngster could be tipped for big things in the months and years to come, given he introduces a measure of consistency to his game.
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