August 17, 2017

Rafinha’s acrobatic effort keeps Luis Enrique’s side on Real Madrid’s coat-tails

Barcelona limped to an insipid 1-0 win over La Liga’s bottom club Granada with a lackluster performance that Manchester City will hope to see repeated on Tuesday night.

Without Gerard Pique and Andrés Iniesta missing injured – as will be the case at the Etihad this week – they labored against a team who had not won all season and lost seven of their 10 games played coming into the game.

Rafinha got the only goal of the game with an overhead kick after Neymar’s shot had come back off a post. He was the liveliest of Barça’s front three with Luis Suarez misfiring infront of goal and Leo Messi miscontrolling the ball twice in the same game – usually his quota for the entire season.

Suarez had shown off his Golden boot before the game started. He didn’t have his shooting boots with him though as Barça were frustrated in the first 45 minutes.

He missed Barcelona’s best first half chance when Javier Mascherano played a long ball out of defence that sent him through on goal. Ruben Vezo did well to get back infront of him and his saving tackle sent the Uruguayan spinning back away from goal and the chance was gone.

Although Barça had their first choice front three playing, Luis Enrique had changed things in midfield with Denis Suarez and Rafinha either side of Ivan Rakitic playing in a holding midfield role as Luis Enrique rested Sergio Busquets rested for Tuesday.

Messi was out of sorts in the first 45 minutes stepping on the ball and leaving it behind in one dribble inside the area that kick-started a Granada counter-attack.

Samuel Umtiti headed a Mascherano corner over and Suarez had another shot saved. He also just failed to connect properly with a Messi cross, hooking a volley straight at Granada keeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Barcelona supporters stayed behind their team but reserved their most animated reaction to minute 12 when they carried out a planned protest at Spanish League president, Javier Tebas who criticised Barcelona players last week after they were hit by a bottle at Mestalla, accusing them of over-reaction and play-acting.

‘They went down like bowling pins’ he said of Suarez and Neymar who went to ground after a bottle was thrown following Barcelona’s winner. That had been a spirited, gutsy win at a difficult ground. Back at the Camp Nou they were struggling to be as impressive.

Granada had defended well keeping their first first half clean sheet away all season and looked to attack on the break with Manchester United loanee Andreas Pereira looking lively when the ball came out to his left wing.

He was replaced by another Premier League loanee on the hour when Chelsea’s Jérémie Boga came on. The change was made with Granada now chasing the match after Rafinha’s goal.

The Brazilian came into the game having scored four goals from his five shots on target so far this season. He made it five from six with a bicycle kick after Neymar’s shot from Messi’s assist came off the post.

Boga’s squirmed his first chance horribly wide but had shown pace to get down the Barcelona right and run at the home team and Granada kept going forward.

But Barça, even without having gone up through the gears, had enough to beat them. Busquets will be back on Tuesday and Pique still has an outside chance of making it. Arda Turan should return to midfield. What Luis Enrique will want most is for a major increase in urgency and precision. The higher stakes will probably ensure he gets it.