23 November 2013; 15:00 hrs GMT
Barcelona welcome Granada this weekend. Tata Martino’s side has had an excellent start to their season and are on track. The manager from Argentina have been excellent in his handling of matters at the Camp Nou and looks perfectly at ease with the pressure in Spain.
Granada are not doing too badly either. For a club of their stature and the shoe-string budget, they are quite comfortably placed at 8th position and look all set to avoid relegation.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Barcelona have been excellent this season. They have won all their matches at home and have conceded just 5 goals. However, the imperious Victor Valdes will not be there after picking up an injury during Spain’s match against South Africa last Tuesday. The shot-stopper will be out for quite sometime and FIFA will compensate for the loss by paying a maximum of €20,548 a day until Valdés is given the medical all-clear, as per the club protection programme approved by FIFA in 2012. While the other outfield players may have the scope to get some much needed rest after suffering long-term injuries, for goalkeepers it is a matter of rhythm. And Valdes was perhaps at the peak of his abilities this season. In Pinto, Martino has a decent replacement, but certainly not up to Victor’s standard.
Lionel Messi’s injury has now become common news and the player at 26 is perhaps in the worst part of his career. This injury may have ruined whatever little chances Leo had to win his fifth consecutive Ballon d’Or and with the extension of the voting deadline, it now looks almost impossible. While some may call it bad luck, the onus of these injuries perhaps lie mostly (if not entirely) on the little man’s shoulders.
“He’s a kid who doesn’t know how to manage himself because he is so passionate for the sport. Someone has to set limits for him. He’s certain to have problems because of how he is. Its fine that you have a contract to play but the player also needs to know when to stop. And since he cannot manage it, someone behind the scenes needs to understand that he needs to be managed,” said Signorini, Messi’s new trainer.
In the absence of the talismanic player, Martino will rely on Alexis Sanchez who has been nothing short of phenomenal this season, along with Pedro and Neymar. The other two have been exceptional, especially Neymar, who is playing his first season outside Brazil. Pedro too has shown a lot of character and has fought hard to earn his place in the team.
The midfield should see some new combination. Xavi is working on a hamstring injury and might just make it in time for the match. Fabregas too has a knee issue. It is in matches like these that Martino should test the academy players and give the senior players much needed rest to continue with aplomb later into the season.
Defense will not have two regular starters. Alves is out for almost 2 weeks and Jordi Alba isn’t fit yet. Marc Bartra recently made his national team debut and Martino should persist with him to boost his confidence. Mascherano is most likely to partner him in the centre with Montoya and Adriano on either side.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Pinto(GK); Montoya, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Alexis, Neymar, Pedro
Last season, in this fixture, Granada scored 3 at the Camp Nou. While Barcelona have improved this season, so have Granada. The visitors have have won three of their last four matches and will by no means be pushovers.
Granada plays the typical way a mid and lower table table should play in order to avoid relegation. Physically strong, long shots and long shots and defending well, especially set pieces. Moroccan striker Youssef El-Arabi will be a force to reckon with and his recent hattrick will give Martino reasons to worry. Diego Buonanotte will be a suitable partner for El-Arabi, and along with Yacine Brahimi, they will be decent trio up against the Barcelona defense, which is not as bad as last season’s, but neither is world class.
In the midfield, versatile Chilean midfielder, Manuel Iturra will be the vital cog. Alongside Iturra, Fran Rico will be the second defensive midfielder who will operate from deep to keep the Barca offense in check. Recio will also play deep to add further steel – any lapse at the Camp Nou can be decisive and Lucas Alcaraz, the Granada manager knows that well.
In defense, they will have Diakhate and Murrilo at the centre and Nyom and Angulo on either side. Behind the 3 defensive midfielders, the defenders will also have to form a water-tight defense if they want to take anything away from the Camp Nou. 34-year-old goalkeeper, Roberto is perhaps at the peak of his abilities and will have his task cut out for this match.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Roberto (GK); Diakhate, Murrilo, Nyom, Angulo; Iturra, Rico, Recio; El-Arabi, Buonanotte, Brahimi
- Barcelona have won their last 21 home matches in La Liga.
- Barcelona have won their last 4 matches against Granada in all competitions.
- Roberto has been the best player for Granada this season.
Player To Watch Out For
Neymar (FC Barcelona)
In the absence of Lionel Messi, all hopes and eyes will be on Neymar. The young Brazilian has shown what he is capable of against formidable oppositions like Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid and this match will depend a lot on his form.
FC Barcelona 4-1 Granada
Despite some good form, Granada will find it difficult to cope with the Barcelona onslaught at the Camp Nou. In the absence of Valdes, they may find that elusive goal, but will not be able to make it in the end. Alexis Sanchez might just make the most of his extended run and find the back of the net.