Pep Guardiola will again have to make do without captain Carles Puyol for tomorrow’s match at Granada. Puyol has a slight groin strain which according to Guardiola is no big deal. It is obvious that after a lengthy injury it would be stupid to risk Puyol, and I hope he really is back to 100% very soon, however, I have to say I am a bit concerned for our defence. Perhaps this is a bit strange given that Victor Valdés has just beaten his record for not conceding, but we have seen very little of Puyol and Piqué this season and they are going to be needed as it is unlikely that both Abidal and Mascherano can play twice a week right through to May. The Puyol setback means we have just seventeen first team players available so B-team players Martin Montoya and Isaac Cuenca get another first team call up.
Having conceded top spot to Levante this weekend we really can not afford to drop points tomorrow. Leo Messi will no doubt be keen to put his injury time penalty miss behind him and Granada could be in for a hiding if Messi is on form. To a lot of culés the name Granada Club de Futbol is usually associated to Johan Cruyff’s Barça debut. On October 28 1973 Cruyff scored twice in a 4-0 win and Barça went on to win La Liga for the first time in 14 years. It also turned out to be a pretty good season for Granada who finished 6th, equalling their best ever finish achieved two seasons previously. Granada managed two more seasons in La Primera before beginning a long exile in the lower divisions that only finished when they won the promotion play-offs earlier this year. To put things in perspective in the 2005/06 season they were still playing in the Tercera Division, in the 2008/09 season they finished 10th in Group IV of the Segunda B, they achieved promotion to the Segunda A in 2010 and then after finishing 5th last season (3 points below Luis Enrique’s Barça B) they gained promotion by beating Celta and Elche in the play-offs.
You might think that Granada’s fans would be ecstatic, but reading some of their comments after this weekend’s 2-0 defeat at Sporting makes it clear that things are not going too well and they are going to have a battle on to stay up. In the summer they made some not-too-clever signings in an attempt to add some experience to the squad but players such as Noé Pamarot, Pape Diakhate and Moises Hurtado have disappointed and they now find themselves benched and Granada are left with pretty much the same team that finished 5th in the second division. Their best chance of staying up seems to be through winning points at home as their away form is dreadful. At home, however, they are unbeaten since losing 0-1 to Betis in the first game of the season. Since then they have beaten Villarreal 1-0 and drawn with Osasuna (1-1) and Atletico (0-0). At the weekend Granada were very disappointing at Sporting but I imagine their players should be much more fired up for a home match against the champions of Europe. So, whatever the difference in class may be we will need to go out and match the passion I expect to be shown by our opponents.
I think we could do with some fresh legs for this game, so Pedro and Busquets should be back in, and I have a feeling we will see Keita remain in the starting line-up while Cesc Fabregas will probably start too. Our full squad for the game is as follows: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Mascherano, Fontàs, Abidal, Maxwell, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Thiago, Cesc, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Villa, Cuenca.
Possible starting XI: Valdés; Alves, Mascherano, Abidal; Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Cesc; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta.
My prediction: Granada 0 Barça 4