Can Tito extend his winning streak as Barcelona hosts Granada this evening? What are Tito’s options for the upcoming match after losing both of Barcelona’s first choice central defenders and what can be expected of Granada’s game? Find out this and more after the jump.
Keeping the lead
After four straight victories in the league, Barcelona is currently sitting on top of La Liga. But they would do well to think that they only have a 2 point lead over second place Malaga, rather than bragging about an 8 point lead over rival Real Madrid. Malaga are in a dreamland of their own, notching 10 points and doing well so far in Europe. Granada on the other hand will visit Camp Nou with only 2 points, but those come from two highly impressive draws against Deportivo and Sevilla. Aside from 3 goals conceded against Real Madrid, Granada has only conceded 1 goal in each of its games which shows that newly appointed coach Anquela builds the game from the defense.
Even though Barcelona are no stranger to defensive oppositions, Granada will be a tricky match for Tito and Barcelona as they are facing a mini-crisis in defense. Not only are Pique and Puyol’s absences a cause for concern, Barcelona’s tally of conceded goals stands at 9 in just 7 official games this season. This weakening defense could very well be systemic and is a drawback of having a more offensive approach, so it might not be as alarming as it sounds. After all, winning all seven games and losing only one of seven means Barcelona is doing a lot of things right.
The Case for Bartra
Tito has so far been very confident with La Masia products and the results are there for everyone to see. Tello has been given a lot of chances to impress and finally he has been able to back it up with some sterling performances. Tello and Cuenca both emerged in the first team due to an injury crisis hitting our forwards last season, and it is looking likely that Bartra will be given a chance today. If Bartra’s performances and injury to both Puyol and Pique don’t convince Tito to give him a starting spot against Granada, than what will?
Trusting Bartra often and early this season will yield better results in the long run compared to moving Song to the central defense berth. Wenger has tried to play Song in central defense many times in the course of the five years he spent with Arsenal with mixed results. Alex Song has proven that he can contribute to the offensive and provide some screen for the back four with crunching tackles, but when playing as a centre back his anticipation and positioning often lets him down.
Granada, just like almost every team in La Liga, underwent a drastic change this summer. Leaving were players like Jara, Carlos Martins, and Uche to be replaced by Youssef Al Arabi, Iriney, and Floro Flores. They are playing a defensive 4-2-3-1, playing wide and crossing often. They have a tendency to tackle harshly, with a record of 6 yellow cards and 1 red card in just 4 games.
Time to experiment
Tito’s options are wide open. This match will be a good time to stretch the creativity muscle as Barcelona can afford some leeway. Granada doesn’t have dangerous players up front like Spartak Moscow. The visitors will depend on their neat organization in defense. It’s likely that there will be some surprise in the starting eleven, and one of them might be the dropping of Dani Alves. Last season, Dani Alves received a red card against Granada which had Barça chasing the game back to 2-2 at the Camp Nou before Messi and Tello saved the Catalan team from a shocking result.
Alves has been experiencing a drop in form lately, including the match against Spartak Moscow. After Tito substituted Alexis for Alves, the team played a very offensive 3-4-3 with 5 forwards which negated the extra man advantage that Moscow had. Dani Alves is best when utilized as a defensive winger or fullback, so it remains to be seen if he will be picked tomorrow.
Another reason for Tito to try and use a variation of 3-4-3 is the abundance of forwards currently waiting in line for Barcelona. David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, Pedro, and Tello are all in good shape to accompany Messi. Defensively, Tito can opt for a back three of Bartra, Mascherano, Song/Busquets as well to ease the burden on Bartra.
Barcelona will aim to improve defensively, as they have only one clean sheet so far this season.
|Osasuna||1 – 2||FC Barcelona|
|Real Madrid||2 – 1||FC Barcelona|
|FC Barcelona||1 – 0||Valencia CF|
|Getafe||1 – 4||FC Barcelona|
|FC Barcelona||3 – 2||Spartak Moscow|
Pique and Puyol will be out for a couple of weeks, rendering both as doubtful for El Clasico. Muniesa is still recovering from his surgery, meanwhile Iniesta has yet to receive medical clearance. Alexis Sanchez and Jordi Alba will both be available after recovering well lately. Alexis even featured in the midweek match and gave an assist. Deulofeu has returned to Barcelona B but Sergi Roberto has been training with the first team. Theoretically Fontas is available as a choice for center back as well.
Predicted Starting XI: Valdés; Bartra, Mascherano, Song; Busquets, Xavi, Fàbregas; Pedro, Messi, Villa, Alexis
Granada will hope to pick up its first win, but the team will be happy with a draw tonight.
|Rayo Vallecano||1 – 0||Granada CF|
|Granada CF||1 – 1||Sevilla CF|
|Real Madrid||3 – 0||Granada CF|
|Granada CF||1 – 1||Deportivo|
Dani Benitez continues serving his six-month suspension, while Roberto, Manuel Lucena, Fran Rico, Hassan Yebda and Odion Ighalo are all ruled out through injury. Centre-back Diego Mainz is available after serving his one-match suspension.
Predicted Starting XI: Toño; Lopez, Gomez, Nyom, Siqueira; Iriney, M.Rico, Torje, El Arabi, Orellana; Flores
FC Barcelona 3 – 0 Granada CF
Image: David Ramos/Getty Images