We have now arrived at the climax of the 2016/2017 season. At this point, it is not about getting your money’s worth of entertainment value. It is strictly about results. Results, results, results- results. It’s all that matters. From this point on, Luis Enrique and his men take each game as a final, as each victory goes a long way in the bigger picture. And because this was a win secured away from home, regardless of the opposition, Lucho’s men must take pride that they secured the result, and ensured maximum points were taken.
Looking at the starting lineup, it was clear that Lucho had dug into his reserves to put together a rotational squad. Jérémy Mathieu, André Gomes, and no Gerard Pique or Lionel Messi- as match-ups go, this was sure to be an interesting affair. Not to mention that maximum points had already been achieved by our rivals in the capital.
This will be the first time (and surely the last time) I will ever be grateful for an international break. Before you judge, let me explain. Days after our Lazareth-like revival in the UEFA Champions League, it was clear that our team had suffered immensely from the mental fatigue of pulling off one of the greatest comeback stories in all of sports history. The international break ensured closure on this chapter, as our players were away from each other for an extended period. The first signs that this had a positive effect on our team as a whole could be seen in our first half performance last night, as away games are usually tricky to deal with- especially in their early stages. Granada were fortunate only to be 0-1 down, thanks to the heroics of Mexican international goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Lucho’s men arrived evidently focused on the task at hand, playing at a decent tempo, creating chance after chance.
Special mention must be made of Neymar, who finally seems to be finding his feet this season. In Messi’s absence, Neymar had been given added responsibility, and boy did he step up. This goes to show that it seems Neymar is constantly playing with limitations in this Barcelona set up, down to the presence of his mentor, Lionel Messi- however, this is a topic for another conversation. That being said, I will leave you with some food for thought on this topic:
Would Messi have flourished the way he has, were his mentor, Ronaldinho to stay and maintain his prime all the way into Messi’s prime?
Ochoa seemed to be having a 2014 FIFA World Cup-like performance, as his personal duel with Luis Suárez continued for most of the first half. Chance after chance, it almost seemed that this may have turned into one of those away performances. Suárez was to eventually put his name on the scoresheet with an exquisite chip, and ensure his fabulous season continues with his 31st goal of the season.
Special mention must also be made of Jérémy Mathieu. It is about time we become honest with ourselves regarding Mathieu. No culé is ever excited to see Mathieu’s name in the starting lineup. And this is for many reasons. Firstly, it means there will be sloppiness from the back. There will be heavy touches from the back when pressed, and there generally will be inefficiencies in defense. He is the one signing I am sure we can all agree probably was a mistake. He is constantly targeted by opposition, and the lethal attack of Granada exposed his general sloppiness and horrid marking (not to mention positional awareness) in their equalizer. Though it was a classy finish by Jeremie Boga, it came from jaw-dropping defense by Mathieu, who was drawn out of his defensive line into midfield, before being exposed by a through ball to Boga. This was not the only mistake, as for a second it seemed Mathieu had decided on his own mission to ensure we leave Granada without 3 points as he dished a ball to a Granada attacker late towards the end of the game to give him a clear shot at goal, which resulted in a corner- in the dying minutes for Granada. “A corner against Barça in the dying minutes of the game”- that script sounds all too familiar, as we all know how it usually ends.
I will be honest. I do not want to see Jérémy Mathieu playing in any capacity in the climax of the season. Not at centre-back, not at left-back not at any-back. I would rather Sergio Busquets fill any defensive voids than create the type of defensive lapses that ‘Matt-Who‘ regularly creates. These type of mistakes should play no part in the climax of the season, let alone any Barcelona side altogether. Decisions on Mathieu’s future must be made in June.
We must also give credit where it is due, and it is fair to award Paco Alcácer with this credit as he has been finding his rhythm the last few weeks. Paco’s campaign has been rather strange, as he was a fine addition on paper. He has strangely been far below his own level, as he is a Spain international easily capable of double figure digits in goals. He seems to be coming right at the most important stanza of the season, and this newly found form will be invaluable in the coming weeks.
The suspension of Lionel Messi, first seen as something to be worried about leading up to the game, has actually turned out to be a huge positive for our main man. Leo is not someone who advocates taking days off, but rest at this point of the season for him is crucial. We need Leo as fresh as possible over the next few weeks.
And onwards we go, with Sevilla up next before Juventus in a few weeks time. I repeat. Every single result at this point is crucial, especially those away from home. Lucho has somehow found himself poised to end his Barcelona tenure with another treble. And this is why I stress each and every result to come. Real Madrid will drop points, that is almost certain. We just need to be ready to capitalize on those points. The gap at the top is unofficially 5 points, as Madrid still have a game in hand. This means that the upcoming El Clásico will be one of the most important for quite some time. A victory in Madrid, coupled with Madrid dropping more points, puts us in the driving seat for La Liga. However, this will only be possible if we do our own part in guaranteeing our own results. That being said, these are exciting times ahead.