Barcelona have walked away with a win in each of their last 22 home games against Granada, and today’s match was no exception. Rafinha Alcántara’s goal was the difference as Barça won 1-0 in a game where both sides played uninspiring football. Granada played good defense which, added to the lack of finishing up top, led to a single goal and not much else for Barcelona.
Barça’s overwhelming talent kept possession against a Granada side currently last in La Liga, but they lacked precise touch in the final third. Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, and Neymar didn’t have the brightest match. Denis Suárez looked unimpressive and didn’t capitalize on the absence of Andrés Iniesta. With Barça’s captain sidelined, many called for Denis to start, but he didn’t really create anything worthwhile and had a so-so game. Umtiti and Mascherano didn’t really have much to worry about in the back. They mostly touched the ball to circulate it around as they kept possession. The only bright spots, really, were Sergi Roberto and Rafinha.
Sergi Roberto played well in the right back position, having several good runs and crosses into the box. Rafinha, besides the goal, played well as the right midfielder in Luis Enrique’s 3 man midfield.
The first chance Barcelona had came in the fourth minute as Messi lobbed a ball over Granada’s defense for Neymar. Face to face with Guillermo Ochoa, Neymar couldn’t get control of the ball before the Mexican keeper scooped it up. Had Ney gotten a pass away to his right, Suárez could have had an empty goal. In the seventh minute, Neymar whipped a ball across the box for a right-footed Messi shot that deflected harmlessly of a Granada player and into Ochoa’s gloves.
Ivan Rakitić had a chance in the 23rd minute but couldn’t quite direct Messi’s cross into the goal. His header went wide for a goal kick. Umtiti had a header off a corner in the 28th minute, but Ochoa once again was in the right place, nullifying the shot. Seconds later, Mascherano lifted a ball over Granada to Suárez, who had a one on one with Ochoa, but his clunky touch instead of a shot allowed the defense to catch up and take away his chance.
Late in the first half, Denis was clearly flustered with the physical defense being played on him. He seemed frustrated, both tactically and emotionally. Messi was barely in the match at all. As the half came to a close, Barça hadn’t had a real chance at all. The game was knotted a 0 as the referee blew for halftime.
The second half began with a much better pace for Barcelona. In the 48th minute, a hold up play from Suárez allowed Messi to dart into the box and fire a low cross through the sea of Granada legs. Suárez let it roll past him, kind of startling Rafinha, who just managed to drop it off to Neymar. Ney missed a wide open goal, dinging the ball off the post. A deflection off a Granada player let Rafinha square up and fire a goal into the back of the net.
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Rafinha is on the best form this year of his career (since being a first team player). He’s now scored five goals this season on only six shots. The goal came as a relief to Barcelona fans, who feared the so far boring match might end in an ugly draw.
With about 30 minutes left, Neymar began to take some late challenges from the defense as he played his typical brand of showy football. In the 63rd, Sergi Roberto made an incredible run along the sideline and fired a perfect pass to Neymar in the box, but his shot was deflected out of bounds by Ochoa, who made a brilliant save. Denis was subbed off for André Gomes with 20 to play. Suárez had an open header in great position just before being subbed off for Paco Alcácer, but fired it right at Ochoa.
The game ended with some tension as Neymar got into with Ruben Vezo after his hard challenge on former Barça man Isaac Cuenca. However, in terms of football, the game was slow. It wasn’t a bad game, as they managed to limit Granada’s chances to score (which were approximately 0), but it was uncreative and quite boring. The player’s touches weren’t precise. Certainly not up to Barcelona standards, but in a La Liga season in which the top five are separated by only a few points, a win is a win. And we’ll take it.