Barcelona will look to win back-to-back La Liga games for the first time this season when they take on Granada at the Nuevo Estadio de Los Carmenes.

La Liga football resumes this weekend with Matchday 5 of the 2019-20 season. Champions Barcelona will be in action on Saturday, when they travel to the Nuevo Estadio de Los Carmenes to face off against Granada, hoping to record successive wins for the first time in the league this season.

Granada are back in La Liga after two seasons down in the Segunda division. But, it hardly appears as if El Grana are a newly-promoted team in the early stages of the new term. Diego Martinez’s men are surprisingly sitting level on points with Barcelona, having beaten Espanyol and Celta Vigo without conceding a goal in their last two games.

Barcelona, on the other hand, have endured a slow start to their league campaign, with the absence of Lionel Messi evidently affecting them. The reigning La Liga champions are yet to win a game on the road; their two away matches so far have ended in a loss (1-0 at Athletic Bilbao) and a draw in their most recent trip away from Barcelona, as Osasuna held them to a 2-2 draw.

Barcelona’s last visit to Granada in the league ended in a 4-1 win, with Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic among those who were on target. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Granada

Granada have started the season in strong fashion. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Granada have started the season in strong fashion. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Diego Martinez has plenty of injury concerns to contend with ahead of the visit of Barcelona. On Saturday, the Granada manager is likely to be without as many as five first-team players, with Quini a fresh absentee due to an ankle injury.

Apart from Quini, Martinez will also be without the services of Neyder Lozano (shin), Alex Martinez (hamstring), Yan Brice (knee) and Fede Vico (foot). The absence of Quini, in particular, is concerning for Granada and the manager will have to dip into his reserves to replace the 29-year-old.

The player likely to benefit from Quini’s injury is Carlos Neva, who should start on the left side of the Granada defence against Barcelona. On the opposite flank, Victor Diaz is a certain starter and will don the armband for the hosts. Diaz and Neva should flank Domingos Duarte and German Sanchez, with Rui Silva taking his place in goal.

Martinez is expected to continue with the 4-2-3-1 formation and the double pivot should feature Manchester City loanee Yangel Herrera, who has started the season strongly, and Angel Montoro, meaning Maxime Gonalons misses out once again.

The absence of Vico will force Martinez into another change, with Alvaro Vadillo likely to come into the side. Vadillo’s return means Antonio Puertas will reprise the no. 10 role, with Vadillo and Darwin Machis being the two wingers. Roberto Soldado should lead the line for Granada against Barcelona.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Silva; Diaz, Sanchez, Duarte, Neva; Montoro, Herrera; Vadillo, Puertas, Machis; Soldado

Granada

Barcelona

Ernesto Valverde has greeted a mix of good news and bad ahead of this weekend’s La Liga fixture. Against Granada on Saturday, the Barcelona manager will be without three first-team players, although he is set to welcome Lionel Messi into the starting lineup for the first time this season.

Messi made his first appearance of the season in the midweek UEFA Champions League group game against Borussia Dortmund. And while Ansu Fati and Carles Perez have done well in his absence, the Barcelona captain appears to be fit enough to finally start a game this season.

As for the absentees, Jordi Alba will be unavailable for a month for Barcelona and will not make the trip to Granada. In his absence, Junior Firpo will get a chance to impress, with the summer signing in line to make his first start for Barcelona. There could be one further change at the back, with Sergi Roberto likely to replace Nelson Semedo.

Roberto’s ideal position has been the subject of intense discussions. But, with Semedo blowing hot and cold, the Spaniard could return to the right-back slot. At the heart of the Barcelona defence, there is no looking past Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet at the present moment, especially with Samuel Umtiti sidelined for the next month or so.

Up ahead in midfield, there could be one change in order, with Ivan Rakitic replacing Frenkie de Jong. The Dutchman has been decent at the start of the season, but having started every game so far, some rotation could be in order amidst a fixture pile-up. Rakitic should accompany Arthur and Sergio Busquets in the three-man midfield unit.

Finally, Messi will make his first start of the season, replacing Fati in the front trio. Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann pick themselves, with the game coming too soon for Ousmane Dembele. Fati and Perez will be the backup options on the bench.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Firpo; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann

Barcelona

Key Stats

  • Barcelona have won more games against Granada than any other team in La Liga history (37 in total and 14 away from home).
  • Barcelona have conceded two goals in each of their last three La Liga matches. The last time they conceded two or more goals in more consecutive league games in the top-flight was back in May 2009 (four).
  • Granada have won their last two La Liga games, keeping a clean sheet in both. The hosts will be hoping to keep three successive clean sheets in the competition for the first time since 1971.
  • Ernesto Valverde has only won two of his last six La Liga matches against Granada (D2 L2), although those victories have come in his two most recent such encounters (2-1 in September 2016 at Los Carmenes and 3-1 in February 2017 at San Mames, both while managing Ahtletic Bilbao).
  • Luis Suarez has scored five goals in five appearances against Granada in La Liga, with all five strikes being netted at Los Carmenes.

Player to Watch

Junior Firpo

Time for Firpo to shine. (Photo by Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images)

Time for Firpo to shine. (Photo by Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images)

Barcelona may have just escaped the game at Borussia Dortmund with a goalless draw. But, they did not escape scot-free, with Jordi Alba succumbing to a hamstring injury in the first half. Alba’s absence now puts Junior Firpo under the spotlight, with the summer signing set to make his first start for Barcelona.

Granada pose quite a bit of threat from the flanks and the pace and trickery of Alvaro Vadillo and Antonio Puertas will make it a good first test for Firpo. At the same time, it will also be interesting to see if the former Real Betis man can offer anywhere near the same creative threat that Alba has for Barcelona over the years. A key game for Junior Firpo on both ends of the pitch.

Prediction

Granada 0-1 Barcelona

A game between two sides that are oddly quite evenly matched in the early juncture of the season. And, Granada’s improved defensive output means there could be very little to separate them from Barcelona, despite the return of Lionel Messi.

Having said that, Messi’s return does give Barcelona the cutting edge. And, even though the hosts are expected to make things tough for the La Liga champions, Ernesto Valverde’s men should have enough quality to get all three points to seal their first away win of the season.

The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-0 win for Barcelona, which ought to take them back into the top four ahead of Real Madrid’s big game this weekend against current table toppers Sevilla.

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