After a week watching others strut their stuff in the Champions League Barça are back in action tomorrow evening with a league fixture at Granada’s Los Cármenes stadium (Saturday 8 pm). Jordi Roura and Tito Vilanova have named a nineteen-man squad for the trip with the only first-team absentees being Johnathan dos Santos, Eric Abidal, David Villa, who has been in and out of hospital this week with kidney stone problems, and Xavi who trained normally today but who is being kept in reserve for next Wednesday’s Champions League game at AC Milan.
The old adage in football is to take every game as it comes, and while for a player this is almost certainly the best philosophy, for a coach in the modern game there are surely situations when he finds himself looking at the coming fixtures with ample consideration for possible rotations. With Barça now twelve points clear of Atlético following their defeat at Rayo last Sunday it would be easy to give tomorrow’s game less priority given that in the following two weeks we play Milan and Sevilla before the cup and league clásicos with Real Madrid.
However, even if we consider that the games with Madrid and Milan are the more important, there can be very little gain from anything other than giving the Granada game our complete attention. It is all very well to put out a weaker team and say it doesn’t matter if we don’t win. But it does matter. It matters because winning creates positive momentum and confidence whereas not winning has the opposite effect. The best way forward is to be relentless, you can be sure the players get a better rest after a big win than after a defeat.
As the players have not had a midweek game I see no reason not to put out our strongest side tomorrow with perhaps the only concession being to save Carles Puyol for the Milan game. With no Villa or Xavi there will be more debate as to where Iniesta should play. He could move back into a midfield role which would free up a forward position for either Alexis or Cristian Tello, though personally I’d like to see Thiago given the Xavi role which would allow Fabregas and Iniesta to continue with Iniesta again on the left side of the attack.
We have played Granada three times since they returned to the top flight in 2011. Last season’s game at Los Cármenes ended in a narrow 0-1 Barça victory thanks to Xavi’s free kick, and in the return game at Camp Nou Leo Messi surpassed Cesar’s all-time scoring record with a hat-trick in Barça’s 5-3 win. Earlier this season Granada gave us all sorts of problems at Camp Nou in a game that remained scoreless until Xavi broke the deadlock in the 87th minute. An injury time own goal from Borja Gomez gave Barça a 2-0 win.
Granada have spent most of the season in and around the relegation zone. The poor results led to the sacking of coach Juan Antonio Anquela at the end of January, but his substitute the 46-year-old Lucas Alcaraz has got off to a flying start with a 1-0 victory over Madrid followed by a 0-3 win over Deportivo at Riazor which has lifted the team up to 14th place on 26 points. Alcaraz has restored a 4-4-2 system with new winter signing Carlos Aranda leading the attack with the Nigerian international Odion Ighalo. Other winter signings Recio and ex-blaugrana Nolito have fitted straight into the midfield, while Diego Buonanotte, who very recently showed his quality in our mini-series of games with Malaga, has also joined the club, coming on in the last two games as a substitute.
Barça’s 19-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartrá, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano, Alba, Song, Busquets, Thiago, Fabregas, Iniesta, Pedro, Alexis, Messi, Tello.
Granada: Toño; Nyom, Iñigo Lopez, Mainz, Siqueira; Torje, Mikel Rico, Recio, Nolito; Aranda, Ighalo.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Thiago, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta.
Prediction: Granada 0 Barça 2
Date: Saturday 16 February 2013. Kick off: 8 pm local time.