This is it. Today, FC Barcelona face Granada CF in the title-deciding fixture in the final Liga round of the season. The work of an entire season could either be rewarded or rendered null at the end of the 90 minutes, which only highlights how incredible are the expectations of a club like Barcelona. After three consecutive Liga defeats against Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, and Valencia, the point gap between Barca and Madrid has shrunk to a single point leaving zero room for error. That was the moment when the players promised they wouldn’t slip up again, that they wouldn’t let the league trophy fall into the hands of their rivals.
Last week, Granada secured another season of top flight football after a shocking 4-1 away win against Sevilla at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, putting an end to their relegation battle. The star of the match was the ex-Barcelona man, Isaac Cuenca, who now stands in the way of a 24th league title for his former club. “Granada will give a good image of themselves on Saturday and we will make things really difficult for Barcelona,” he said. For Granada, this match isn’t about adding three points to their tally; it’s more than that. For Granada, this match is about reserving a page in the history books. It’s about being forever known as the team that deprived Barcelona of a league title on the final round, and the pride that comes with that. There’s no pressure on the home team. Nothing to lose, nothing hanging in the balance. Instead, they’ll go out to put on a show for their supporters as a gift for standing by them throughout a difficult season. But the same cannot be said for Barcelona.
Culés can be assured that the players are capable of handling the pressure. When you’ve got a living legend like Lionel Messi on your side, a man driven by his thirst for success and his love for the club, you don’t have much to worry about. This is a treble-winning squad, a group of players who’ve faced the best in Europe and have come out on top almost every time. It’s a result of an extraordinary combination of both hard work and talent, and that’s why I can confidently say that I trust them to get the job done today. As many have constantly repeated throughout the season, this group has done enough to earn their supporters’ trust. And they want to win it just as badly as we want to, if not more.
The reverse fixture at the Camp Nou ended in a 4-0 thrashing with Messi netting a hat-trick. The team will arrive at the Nuevo Los Cármenes knowing they are about to face a team they’ve already outclassed, and are more than capable of doing so again. Their destiny lies in their hands.
Granada have nothing but pride to play for, but José González is still expected to field his strongest XI. Isaac Success and Diego Mainz will miss out on the historic fixture through injury, while Cristiano Biraghi is back just in time after recovering from an ankle injury earlier this week.
The home side’s end of the season run has been a strong one, winning three and drawing one in their last six Liga games. Granada are undefeated in their last six home games, an impressive feat that helped them survive another season with the big boys. They, however, possess the league’s fourth-worst defence and will have to work incredibly hard to keep out the MSN trident.
Granada’s star, Youssef El-Arabi, has bagged 16 league goals this season, approximately 35% of his team’s total league goals. The Moroccan striker has enjoyed an impressive campaign and will look to add to his tally when the blaugranacome to visit.
Predicted XI: Fernández, Lopes, Babin, Costa, Biraghi; Rochina, Doucouré, Pérez, Cuenca; Peñaranda, El-Arabi.
Luis Enrique rested his players earlier this week to ensure they show up today with fresh legs. Claudio Bravo is in the final stages of recovery after a calf injury and so Marc-André ter Stegen is expected to play the final league game of the season. The rest, with the exception of Sandro Ramírez, are fit and ready.
Luis Suárez, La Liga’s top scorer, has scored 37 league goals so far but explained that winning the Pichichi trophy would be worthless if Barcelona, by the end of today’s match, are not champions.
Luis Enrique is once again expected to field his Gala XI in the biggest game of the season as he has been doing in recent weeks.
Match Squad: All players have been called up for the game.
Predicted XI: Ter Stegen, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Neymar, Messi, Suárez.
Barcelona have won eight of their last nine games against Granada, losing once in 2014 during Gerardo Martino’s spell at the club. The Catalans have scored 21 goals in their four games and conceded none, and there’s no doubt they’ll put on display another strong performance.
I don’t care if Barcelona win by a single goal or ten, I just care about the win. So, VISCA EL BARÇA!