Barcelona travelled to Granada with hopes to continue their successful start of the new calendar year. Granada sat comfortably at 7th place in La Liga and already securing their place in the knockout phase of the Europa League. On the other hand, Barcelona looked to secure their third consecutive league win for the first time this season and eight straight games unbeaten.
Granada vs Barcelona line-ups
Barcelona`s last league display was against Atheltic in Bilbao which saw the Catalans come from behind to win 3:2. Not many changes in the starting line-up as Araujo and Mingueza were scheduled to partner in the back four.
However, Araujo suffered an injury in the warm-up and that gave a chance to Umtiti to showcase his talents.
No changes in the team apart from that one as Ronald Koeman still looks for his optimum starting 11.
Granada went for the conventional 4-2-3-1 with Soldado, Puertas and Machis trying to cause problems for Barcelona.
The game started with few rough moments with Barcelona being sloppy in possession which allowed Granada to win the ball back in dangerous areas and threaten Ter Stegen. A good save from the goalkeeper in the opening minutes was pretty much his only involvement in the first half.
Defensively Barcelona played one of their most efficient games this season. Umtiti and Mingueza complemented each other perfectly with Umtiti being the solid defensive presence, giving a bit of instruction to the back four and Mingueza being that ball-playing defender taking a bit of pressure off Busquets in the build-up. Dest and Alba, as usual, provided the energy with forward runs but they did not neglect their defensive duties also.
Sergio Busquets also played one of his best games this season. He had the most touches of anyone in the team with 135, completing 116/126 passes or 92%, and also was instrumental in the first and fourth goals. The shape of the team was pretty impressive without an extreme amount of free movement allowed apart from the final third.
The heatmap can’t look better. It is the perfect template of where a defensive midfielder/deep-lying playmaker and two central defenders should be on the field. That structure in away games helps tremendously the confidence of the team.
Like him or not, Ronald Koeman brought a bit of fluidity in the midfield with switches in-play from double pivot to midfield three that allows the team to anticipate and defend situations better.
Pedri has the freedom to do whatever he wants with De Jong serving the box-to-box role perfectly and Sergio Busquets as the one a bit deeper of the three. That changes pretty smoothly to double-pivot and constant movement from De Jong and Pedri provide that unpredictability and versatility to adapt to in-game situations. The only way to go past that midfield was to try play balls over the top and hope the attackers can create something even when outnumbered.
While watching the first half, I thought that Griezmann did not really stand out with anything. Pedri, De Jong, Messi, Dembele were all active, and their presence could be felt. However, Griezmann most of the time was not really involved in the build-up and we tend to overlook his contribution as he isn’t the most prolific forward and gets lost in the game sometimes. Oh, was I wrong.
Griezmann gave that extra something in the final third. His assist to Messi helps explain that perfectly.
He does not rush any decisions, does not try to find Pedri with a through ball but he just kept on running. He took what the defence gave him. Kept on running and kept on running with the ball and when there was no more space to run forward he had multiple options to release the ball. Chose the perfect one and Messi did the rest. From another angle, you can clearly see the huge space in behind the defenders but Griezmann does not get tricked into playing a quick ball up the field.
His second goal is a masterpiece. When he plays with confidence and a clear mind, he gives exactly that in the final third – the right decision. And he certainly made the right decisions in that game. Finishing with two goals and an assist on his name completed arguably his best performance of the season to date.
Many things have been said about Sergio Busquets and what he can’t do anymore. However, games like this one showed exactly why Busquets was the best defensive midfielder/deep-lying playmaker in the world for a solid 7-8 years. The first goal is extremely unfortunate from Granada point of view, however, Barcelona could be happy with few things.
Busquets’ vision allows him to spot the space in behind which Messi tries to run into. The pass isn’t good enough this time but the idea of that through ball and the attempted one-two between Messi and Busquets is the right approach in defence sitting that deep.
He really controlled the game like we were used see him do in previous seasons. In the build-up for the fourth goal, he starts the move with a perfect pass to Dembele.
Without too many clear-cut chances in Barcelona made Granada pay for even the slightest of misunderstandings. The double team on Dembele after Busquets’ pass, allows Griezmann to run into that space and finish that chance on his weaker foot.
A refreshing efficiency when we take into consideration all the heroics from opposition goalkeepers when facing Barcelona this season. Messi also notched his first free-kick goal of the season to make it 0:3 before half-time.
A complete performance that allowed Barcelona to creep in touching distance of the top spot in La Liga. A few weeks ago somewhere after those games against Cadiz and Juventus we were ready to write Barcelona off and toss the season. Now 4 points from the top the enthusiasm is back in the camp and there is an opportunity to build on these performances. What we learned from yesterday was hard work, determination, discipline, confidence, and individual quality are the keys to a successful season.