Barça take on Granada at Camp Nou tomorrow evening (Saturday 6 pm) in the sixth round of La Liga 2014/15 with the intention of regaining the top spot which was lost yesterday to Valencia on goals scored. Luis Enrique will want to put out a strong side to ensure the victory but he seems likely to reserve some players for the big Champions League clash at Paris Saint Germain on Tuesday night.
The Barça coach has 23 players available for tomorrow’s game including youngsters Munir El-Haddadi and Sandro Ramírez who continue training with the first team. Thomas Vermaelen has received medical clearance after playing 73 minutes in Barça B and Luis Suarez’s 6-0 friendly win against the Indonesia under-19 team, though the defender’s incorporation in the team is likely to be gradual. Jordi Alba and Douglas Pereira both trained normally this morning after missing yesterday’s session, Douglas was suffering a slight fever which, along with the poor state of the pitch, may explain his disappointing debut at Malaga.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to predict a starting XI. Luis Enrique will not give the squad list for the game until tomorrow morning and the players will then go home for lunch before reporting at 4.30 pm at Camp Nou for the game. Claudio Bravo seems likely to continue in goal while Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano and Jeremy Mathieu could all return in defence after being rested against Malaga. Jordi Alba, on the other hand, might be given a break with PSG in mind which could see Adriano, Montoya or Douglas filling in at left-back. Luis Enrique has so far shown a preference for the Rakitic-Busquets-Iniesta trio in midfield but again he will be thinking about Paris which could see a start tomorrow for Sergi Roberto who signed a new contract until 2019 today, or for Xavi. In attack, could there possibly be a rest for Leo Messi? I doubt it. Messi will almost certainly start but which two from Pedro, Neymar, Munir and Sandro to support the Argentinian in anyone’s guess.
Opponents Granada made a positive start to the season, taking eight points from their first four games, including an impressive 0-1 win over Athletic at San Mames last Saturday, but the positive run came to an end on Wednesday when Joaquin Caparrós’s team lost at home to Levante. Granada have faced Barça six times since gaining promotion in 2011, losing five but winning the last meeting between the teams, 1-0 back in April as Barça’s season fell apart under Tata Martino. The three games at Camp Nou have all ended in Barça victories, 5-3 in 2011/12, 2-0 in 2012/13 and 4-0 last season thanks to goals from Iniesta, Fabregas, Alexis and Pedro.
We can expect, yet again, to come up against defensive opposition tomorrow. Barça have shown plenty of positive attributes in the first six games but if there is a noticeable flaw it has been in breaking through these packed defences. Barça’s narrower attack this season may well be designed with Luis Suarez in mind, but so far it has only had varied success. Luis Enrique says the team is constantly looking for solutions so we may see some tactical variations. A few more risks might need to be taken to get players into the box. While clean sheet records are nice I’d much rather see a 5-2 than a 1-0, especially in a game like tomorrow’s. However, unless Barça make an early breakthrough I expect Granada will make it tight again, Barça will also be looking to reserve energy for Paris on Tuesday so a low-scoring home victory seems most likely.
Barça’s available players: Bravo, Ter Stegen, Alves, Montoya, Douglas, Adriano, Alba, Piqué, Mascherano, Bartra, Mathieu, Vermaelen, Busquets, Rakitic, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Rafinha, Pedro, Munir, Messi, Sandro, Neymar.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Sergi Roberto; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.
Granada: Roberto; Nyom, Babin, Murillo, Foulquier; Fran Rico, Yuste, Iturra, Javi Marquez; El-Arabi, Success.
Prediction: Barça 2 Granada 0
Date: Saturday 27 September 2014. Kick-off 6 pm local time.