Luis Enrique’s Barça responded to the criticism received following the goalless draw at Malaga by destroying Granada 6-0 at Camp Nou this evening. Leo Messi led the way with a majestic performance, scoring twice and creating another three, and the Argentinian was ably supported by Neymar Jr who grabbed himself a hat-trick and new signings Ivan Rakitic who headed in the other goal and Jeremy Mathieu who gave a powerful performance at the back to contribute to maintaining the run of clean sheets which now stretches to seven games since the start of the season.
There were six changes to the starting team in Malaga with Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Adriano, Xavi and Munir coming into the side in place of Douglas, Piqué, Bartra, Alba, Iniesta and Pedro. With Rakitic and Xavi coinciding for the first time in midfield it was Xavi who was positioned on the left side while Rakitic continued on the right.
Things might have been very different for Granada had they taken one of their early chances. In only the second minute the visitors broke after a Barça corner and Mathieu had to make his first important intervention sliding in to prevent the advance towards goal of young Granada striker Isaac Success. Then in the seventh minute left-back Foulquier advanced up the line before slipping past Munir and crossing, El-Arabi had a poor first touch at the near post but the ball came back to him off Mathieu and from six yards the Granada striker hit a shot that bounced away off the crossbar.
Barça soon took control of the game and Granada were rarely seen again in attack. Munir should have scored in the tenth minute after Alves’s deep cross found Mathieu arriving late past the far post, but when Mathieu squared the ball across the goalmouth Munir could only hit it straight back at Granada’s stranded keeper Roberto. Messi then had the ball in the net from an offside position and Barça began to pin the visitors back.
Granada employed a narrow 4-4-2 formation which encouraged Barça’s full-backs forward. Rakitic was busy in midfield while Messi and Neymar tried their tricks to break through. Barça won six corners in the first 21 minutes but Roberto didn’t need to make a save until the 23ed minute minute when Xavi’s 25-yard drive went straight at him. Then three minutes later good pressing from Rakitic forced Yuste into an awful pass straight to Neymar 25 yards out and the Brazilian ran the ball into the area and beat Roberto with the help of a big deflection off defender Jean-Sylvain Babin.
There may have been a touch of luck in Barça’s first goal but it helped to remove any anxiety. However, as Barça controlled possession there was the risk of a drop in intensity which might have been punished in the 42nd minute when Granada made a quick break up the right, and when El-Arabi crossed, Barça were fortunate that Success sent his header from 15 yards comfortably over the bar.
The scare woke Barça up and Granada were hit with two quick goals before half-time, the first of which was quite brilliant. Alves attacked down the right and he found Munir who knocked the ball back to Messi. The Argentinian was on the right of the area faced with Javi Marquez, he shimmied left but went right and then used a similar move to take the ball past Foulquier before crossing right-footed from the goal-line and Rakitic arrived at the near post to glance a header across Roberto and inside the far post. Then in first-half injury-time Barça broke down the left, Xavi played the ball inside to Messi who sent a splendid pass into the box for Munir to chase, Roberto came rushing off his line to intercept but the keeper failed to hold the ball, knocking it straight into the path of Neymar who had a easy finish into the roof of the net.
With the 3-0 advantage Barça again took a while to get started after the break. However, in the 56th Xavi struck a free-kick on target which Roberto did well to parry, then a minute later, brilliant work in midfield from Rakitic gave Messi the chance to set up Munir but the youngster clipped his shot a whisker past the far post.
At this point Rakitic was given a deserved rest with Sergi Roberto coming on in his place. Xavi remained on the left side of midfield but with the splendid Rakitic now off the field Barça’s veteran captain began to demonstrate his class. First he spotted Alves making a forward run and sent a glorious long ball which fell perfectly for the Brazilian to volley a first-time cross which gave Messi a simple headed finish from three yards out for the 400th goal of his career. Then in the 66th minute Adriano played the ball inside to Xavi who sent a splendidly disguised pass into Messi who pulled the ball back for Neymar to pick his spot and complete his second blaugrana hat-trick.
Bartra replaced Busquets which gave Mascherano 25 minutes to play as midfield pivot and Sandro came on for Munir. Granada were finished now but Barça didn’t let up. Roberto had to make saves in quick succession from Messi and Xavi, then with eight minutes remaining Messi showed he was still hungry by pressing Jesús Murillo into a mistake and then holding off Babin’s challenge and clipping his shot past Roberto’s dive.
The scoreline confirms an easy win but until Rakitic scored in the 43rd minute the game was far from simple. Again there were problems opening up a tight narrow defence but at Camp Nou the ball moves more quickly than on the poor playing surface at Malaga, which makes it easier to stretch the opposition. The goals will be good for confidence after the doubts raised on Wednesday while the unbeaten defensive record sends an imposing message that Barça will be very tough for anybody to beat this season. The biggest test of the season so far now arrives with the trip to Paris to face PSG on Tuesday night.
Barça: Bravo 6.5; Alves 7.5, Mascherano 7, Mathieu 8.5, Adriano 7; Rakitic 8.5 (Sergi Roberto m58, 6.5), Busquets 6.5 (Bartra m64, 6.5), Xavi 7.5; Munir 6.5 (Sandro m71, 6.5), Messi 9.5, Neymar 8.
Granada: Roberto; Nyom, Murillo, Babin, Foulquier; Iturra, Fran Rico (Piti h/t), Yuste (Sylvestre h/t), Javi Marquez; El-Arabi (Martins m71), Success.
Goals: m26 Neymar 1-0, m43 Rakitic 2-0, m45+1 Neymar 3-0, m62 Messi 4-0, m66 Neymar 5-0, m82 Messi 6-0.
Yellow cards: m34 Rico, m81 Alves, m84 Foulquier