There was some serious speculation amongst some in the press earlier today that Pep Guardiola was going to rest Xavi Hernandez for tonight’s game at Granada. Following the 0-0 draw with Sevilla there were arguments that the younger Thiago might be a better choice to run the midfield. However, with Carles Puyol out with a groin sprain, Guardiola knew we would need some experience and a leader for this game and Xavi responded by curling in the only goal of the game from a free kick just after the half hour mark. Barça should have added to the score especially as Granada were reduced to ten men for the last 40 minutes, however, our finishing was again poor and Leo Messi had another off day and he now hasn’t scored for three games.
If some expected Xavi to be rested, nobody foresaw the inclusion of Isaac Cuenca who played the entire game on the left side of the attack. Pep made five changes to Saturday’s XI, Maxwell came in at left back and managed to lose the ball twice in the first 25 seconds. We soon began to settle and it became clear that Granada were going to play with two lines of four very close together near the edge of their penalty area which meant their was very little space through the middle. However, we began to work things on the flanks: first Pedro and Alves combined well on the right before Messi curled his first effort of the night wide of the far post, and then Cuenca made a decent run and low cross from the left. Cuenca may have been inspired by this as a minute later he tried a shot that also missed the far post, however after this he was very quiet for long periods as we concentrated most of our attacks down the right and through the middle. After 20 minutes Xavi tried a hopeful effort from outside the area and he will have noted how Granada keeper Roberto had more difficulty in stopping the shot than seemed necessary. Then a minute later Xavi opened the play to Alves whose cross gave Pedro the best chance of the game so far but his header missed the target.
The problem with games we are meant to win easily is that when the score is still 0-0 then the doubts and frustration are seen very early. After just 25 minutes it seemed as if we were struggling to find a way through. Abidal had our next shot on goal after he and Busquets had caused confusion from a corner but apart from Pedro’s header we were not making clear cut chances. Then on 33 minutes we won a free kick 30 yards out, Xavi must have remembered the goalkeeper’s weakness with positioning as he floated a fine shot over the wall but without needing to look for the top corner, the ball went in a good foot from the post but the hapless Roberto could only get a fingertip to the ball and Barça were one up.
We looked much more comfortable with the lead as we no longer had the need to make the risky pass and we saw some long periods of possession. However, the chance to see if Granada could claw their way back into the game was more or less destroyed in the 52nd minute when Jaume was a bit unlucky to get a second yellow for what seemed an unintentional, though slightly careless kick that caught Maxwell in the face. Maxwell was ok to continue but Pedro had to go off injured after being caught on the back of the heel, first reports say he’ll be out for two weeks. Villa came in on the right and was immediately in action, but like the other strikers tonight his shooting failed to find the target. However, soon after he received the ball directly from a poor clearance from Roberto, the defence was scattered as Villa played in Messi who clipped the ball over the goalkeeper but before he could celebrate a defender had sprinted back to clear the ball before it could cross the line.
With a man less Granada continued to play with the two lines of four with just Uche, and later Geijo alone up front with the result that they caused Victor Valdés very few problems. We were not creating a great deal ourselves but in the 70th minute Cuenca had his big chance to get on the scoresheet but his shot after Xavi’s pass just failed to squeeze under Roberto’s dive. Iniesta came on for Cesc and near the end Keita came on for Xavi but the control was pretty easy despite our failure to add more goals. Granada tried to get towards our goal but in the last ten minutes the best they managed were three hopeful balls into our penalty area which were all comfortably dealt with by our defence. With the game in injury time Javier Mascherano demonstrated why he is so valued by fans by chasing down Granada right up to their goalkeeper. Curiously from the goalkeeper’s long clearance Benitez was found offside and in his frustration (and decent impersonation of Cristiano ronaldo-like petulance) he got himself sent off for kicking the ball away and protesting.
The crowd ended the game with boos for the referee but it is highly unlikely that the red cards for Granada made any difference, though it is a shame we didn’t get to see what might have occurred. This was by no means a bad performance from Barça though we don’t seem as fresh as in some other games. I don’t think this is a physical question, but perhaps more mental as it may get tiring trying to break through such packed defences. I have no intention of kicking Messi while he is not in his best form, we have seen these slight drops in form before and they never last for very long. Let’s hope he can find the net again soon, starting witrh Mallorca’s visit to Camp Nou on Saturday.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 6.5, Mascherano 7.5, Abidal 7, Maxwell 6; Xavi 7.5, Busquets 6.5, Fabregas 6; Pedro 6 (Villa m56, 6), Messi 6, Cuenca 6.
Goal: m33 Xavi 0-1
Barça cards: m26 Alves, m62 Busquets, m66 Cuenca, m90 Keita