Barça’s impressive start to the season continued with a 4-0 victory over Granada at Camp Nou this afternoon. With no Leo Messi it was Andrés Iniesta who took the lead, firing Barça in front from the penalty spot before winning a second penalty which was converted by Cesc Fabregas five minutes before half time. Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez completed the rout with second half goals to leave Barça on 40 points from 14 games and put the pressure on Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid who both play later this evening.
Given the number of absences there were few surprises to Tata Martino’s team selection. Pinto came in for Valdés in goal, Montoya, Bartra, Piqué and Adriano formed the defence, Busquets, Fabregas and Iniesta made up the midfield while in attack Alexis started on the right with Pedro on the left and Neymar in Messi’s false nine role.
Barça started the game well, setting a high rhythm and causing Granada problems. Alexis was particularly lively in the early minutes, setting off on one run after just 40 seconds which ended with a shot straight at Granada keeper Roberto Fernández. Iniesta was looking sharp and dominating and in the seventh minute he dribbled inside from the right but his left foot shot lack the power to trouble Roberto.
The best early chance fell to Alexis in the 13th minute. Adriano was fouled on the left, Neymar swung in the free kick and Alexis found himself six yards out and unmarked but his flicked header was too close to Roberto who dived low to his left to save. Granada managed a couple of wayward long-shots from El-Arabi and Piti but it was generally one-way traffic. Then in the 19th minute Barça got the break with a rather fortuitous penalty. Fabregas combined well with Neymar but then as the Barça number four entered the area Iturra stretched to get a touch on the ball, Fabregas didn’t have full control either of the ball or his balance but his momentum took him forward and he collided with Foulquier and fell. Referee Mateu Lahoz pointed to the spot and captain for the day Iniesta took the responsibility and beat Roberto’s dive with a firm side-footed penalty into the corner.
Granada were forced to come out and for a while the visitors had their best spell of the game with Piti cracking a 25-yarder against Pinto’s crossbar after Piqué got caught in possession. The game became more scrappy with Iturra and El-Arabi receiving yellow cards in quick succession for fouls on Neymar before the Brazilian also got booked for a trip on Brahimi. Iturra was then fortunate not to get a second yellow after a high challenge on Busquets.
As half-time approached Barça began to take control again. Fabregas sent one superb pass into Alexis who might have scored if Foulquier hadn’t made an excellent saving tackle. Then in the 40th minute Adriano won the ball back, Busquets found Alexis on the right and the Chilean played a square pass across the edge of the area to Iniesta who was clumsily challenged from behind by Fran Rico. Mateu Lahoz again pointed to the spot and this time there was little doubt about his decision. Iniesta left the penalty for Fabregas who struck his shot perfectly into the top corner. Strange that Iniesta should score after a foul on Fabregas and then the situation was reversed for the second penalty. On the stroke of half time Alexis received another brilliant pass, this time from Iniesta, but on this occassion the Chilean’s control let him down and the opportunity had gone.
In the second half, as we have seen already during various games under Martino, Barça sat a bit deeper, allowing the opponent to come forward more while looking for quick counter-attacks. With Marc Bartra putting in another very strong performance at the back there was rarely any threat to Pinto’s goal though El-Arabi sent a header well over in the 48th minute. However, there was less danger from Barça too, with just one golden chance for Pedro after Montoya’s only overlap of the game, but the Canarian was leaning back and blazed his shot over.
There was always the chance that a Barça mistake could put Granada back in the game but then in the 66th minute it was hardly a surprise when Iturra received his second yellow card. Pedro broke down the left and a quick step-over was enough to get Iturra to lunge in and Granada were down to ten men.
Perhaps the numerical advantage led to a certain relaxation from Barça as Nyom was allowed to race unchallenged into the area but Pinto held his ground well to block. From a possible 2-1 the score went to 3-0 as Neymar led the counter-attack before slipping the ball to Alexis who clipped the ball home over Roberto’s dive. Song and Sergi Roberto came on to give some fresh legs to Barça’s midfield but there was little left from Granada now. Piti had one final effort from distance but Pinto touched the ball round the post then at the other end Song pressed Rico into gifting Piqué a chance but the defender missed the target with his shot.
There was a moment to remember for 17-year-old Adama Traoré when Martino decided to replace Neymar and give the youngster a debut. There was little time for Adama to impress though he did manage one excellent dribble between Nyom and Recio before going past Diakhaté, but his final shot lacked venom and Roberto made a comfortable save. Then in the 89th minute Sergi Roberto led the charge before playing the ball left to Fabregas who played in a low cross for Pedro to slide in and finish at the far post.
There will undoubtedly continue to be some questions about Barça’s style under Martino. At around the 80-minute mark the TV offered the statistic of possession at 52-48% in Barça’s favour which is well below the level Camp Nou has become accustomed to in recent years. Some might say that Getafe should never have had a sniff of the ball after Iturra’s sending off let alone force two saves from Pinto. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives in judging Martino’s Barça. The results continue to be excellent and considering the number of injuries we have a 4-0 win over a team that had only conceded five goals away from home is no mean feat. We had a makeshift defence with our second choice keeper yet we kept another clean sheet while the absence of Messi wasn’t noticed at the other end with the goals nicely divided between players. It was also very satisfying to end the game with Montoya, Bartra, Sergi Roberto and Adama on the pitch. It’s a shame Jean-Marie Dongou didn’t get his chance today but the game demonstrated there is plenty of promise for the future. It was particularly pleasing to see such a good performance from Marc Bartra who is fast developing into a top class defender. I apologise if I doubted him at times last season but it now seems he has what it takes to challenge seriously for a regular starting place in the team.
Barça: Pinto 7; Montoya 6.5, Bartra 8, Piqué 6.5, Adriano 6; Fabregas 7.5, Busquets 6 (Song m74, 6.5), Iniesta 8.5; Alexis 7 (Sergi Roberto m74, 7), Neymar 6.5 (Adama m83, –), Pedro 7.
Granada: Roberto; Nyom, Diakhaté, Murillo, Foulquier; Recio, Iturra, Rico; Piti (Ighalo m77), El Arabi (Riki m74), Brahimi (Buonanotte m77).
Goals: m20 Iniesta (pen) 1-0, m40 Fabregas (pen) 2-0, m71 Alexis 3-0, m89 Pedro 4-0.
Yellow cards: m20 Diakhaté, m25 Iturra, m26 El-Arabi, m28 Neymar, m43 Busquets, m66 Iturra (=red),