Barça play host to Granada Club de Fútbol tomorrow night at Camp Nou (kick off 10 pm), hoping to build on the season’s start of the four straight league wins. Tito Vilanova will have problems to choose a defence with both Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol out for the next couple of weeks.
Last season’s game between the sides ended in a 5-3 victory for Barça on a historic night that Leo Messi broke Cesar’s all-time Barça scoring record of 232 goals. There has been a lot of talk again recently about Messi-dependency and a look at some statistics shows us why. Last season Messi amazed us by scoring an incredible 73 goals in 60 games (1.217 goals a game) which accounted for a total of 38.63% of the team’s fantastic season’s tally of 190 goals, after just 7 official games of the 2012/13 season Messi has already reached 10 goals which puts him on an even better goals-per-game average (1.429) than last season, the team’s total of 19 goals in those games means Messi’s contribution has risen this season to a remarkable 52.63% of the team’s goals.
Personally, I don’t see it as a big problem, more just a sign that Messi continues to get better every season. It has been pointed out that Messi doesn’t run as much as he used to, but what was has improved is his ability to be in the right place at the right time. Both goals against Spartak, plus his second against Real Sociedad, his second at Getafe and his pair at Osasuna have all come from converting crosses. In fact, only his first goal against Real Sociedad involved him beating a defender which is often seen as his greatest ability.
With Messi on form we should have little to worry about going forward, especially given the quality of our other forwards. There is a very interesting battle developing to see who will get to play more in the other forward positions. Pedro has begun the season well and looks likely to be first choice on the right side, while so far on the left Tello has been the surprise choice so far, though with Villa and Alexis competing for the position he has a tough job. Things will be even more interesting when Cuenca is fit again and when Tito decides that Villa is ready to start a game..
However, it is another story at the back. Of course this week we are all thinking about Puyol and Piqué but our problems in defence can be traced back to losing Eric Abidal. Without the Frenchman there is a different balance to our back line and we miss his covering ability as both Adriano and Jordi Alba are much more attack-minded. With two attacking full backs it seems clear that Busquets is not quick enough to play centre back so the choice to partner Mascherano now seems to lie between Alex Song, Marc Bartrá or Andreu Fontás. Song looked pretty unsure of his role when replacing Piqué on Wednesday but he may just need time to adapt. Personally I think the job tomorrow should go to Bartrá as he seems the most natural to take over Piqué’s right-sided centre back role.
In midfield we are still without Andrés Iniesta and so far this season Vilanova has shown a lot of faith in Cesc Fabregas to play Iniesta’s role. However, given Cesc’s not-so-great form, which isn’t helped by so much press attention to the player, perhaps he should take a rest tomorrow. Thiago looked in good shape during his return at Getafe and really deserves the chance for another start.
Finally, a word on Granada. Having finished 17th last season it looks as though our opponents are going to face another long struggle against the drop this time round. After just four games they already sit in the relegation zone (18th) with just two points to their name. Those points came from two 1-1 home draws against Sevilla and Deportivo while on their travels they lost 1-0 to a last minute goal at Rayo while being easily beaten 3-0 by Real Madrid. They are without several players for the trip to Camp Nou including captain Manuel Lucena and Dani Benitez who is still serving a suspension for throwing a bottle at the referee at the end of last season’s 1-2 defeat to Real Madrid. Of the players who will be playing tomorrow we should watch out for Italian striker Floro Flores who scored in last week’s draw against Depor and the Chilean Fabian Orellana who has played 34 times for his country. The double defensive pivot of Mikel Rico and ex-Betis star Iriney Santos da Silva, French full back Allan Nyom and ex-Racing keeper Toño are other players of note.
Possible Barça XI: Valdés; Alves, Bartrá, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Thiago; Pedro, Messi, Tello.
My prediction: Barça 3 Granada 0