Sunday night Granada were the Camp Nou’s guests, and Barcelona came away with the win, but more mattered than simply the scoreline.
Barcelona are clearly a team in transition. New manager Quique Setién had his first game in the Barcelona dugout, and his first game was a success. Barcelona snatched the win after a dominating performance against a very well-disciplined Granada defense and midfield, but the scoreline is not just what the Barcelona faithful will have their focus on.
What was clear to see was that the Barcelona style football was returning, slowly but surely.
Barcelona started the game with their 4-3-3 formation, with no new faces, per se, in the starting eleven, which can be seen below.
On the bench were Neto, Nélson Semedo, Clément Lenglet, Arthur, who also had gotten the medical green light Sunday afternoon, joined by Riqui Puig and Carlés Perez.
The team started off with their usual formation, and an aspect that had gone missing under Ernesto Valverde’s tenure had now returned: press off the ball, all the way from the attacking line to defense. Antoine Griezmann and Ansu Fati played on the wings, and interchanged their positions, with Messi, several times throughout the game.
The midfield, albeit not the ideal one in many Barcelona fans’ eyes, was a solid one. Sergio Busquets seemed more at ease at the Camp Nou on Sunday than he has been for a while, due to Setién’s newly implemented system of play.
The defense with Umtiti and Piqué in the heart of it did well, and, during the game, the formation was changed. Barcelona went from their traditional 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3, to give more attacking options. During the first half, Barcelona had many chances, with most of them coming from Ansu Fati and Lionel Messi.
Although Antoine Griezmann did not seem too present in the attacks, his hard work off the ball was influential in helping Barcelona regain possession moments after losing it.
At half-time, the Catalan side had had most of the possession and had most of the play happen in Granada’s half of the pitch, but the guests’ resilience in defense and midfield proved too strong for Barcelona to get past.
An impressive performance from the 25-year-old Granada goalkeeper Rui Silva troubled Barcelona’s front men, who were not able to get a goal before the half-time whistle blew. However, the statistics at half-time showed a clearly dominant performance from the home side, who had done virtually everything right but find the back of the net.
The half-time stats can be seen below.
The second half saw Granada become far more courageous, and around the hour-mark, the away side came close to scoring, with Etaki seeing his shot go off the post and across goal.
Since then, the away side saw their midfielder, Germán Sánchez sent off, getting his second yellow, for a tackle on Lionel Messi. In the heat of the moment, striker Carlos Fernández got a yellow card, and Barcelona, sensing the frustration of the away team, took more control of the game.
In minute 71, Barcelona’s first substitution took place, as Riqui Puig, who also got his La Liga debut, replaced Ivan Rakitic.
Minutes later, the young midfielder recovered the ball on the left flank, passed it towards the middle, and brilliant combination play between Antoine Griezmann, Arturo Vidal and Leo Messi helped the latter score the first goal of the night, and of the Quique Setién era!
Shortly after the goal was scored, Ansu Fati was replaced by Carlés Perez.
Barcelona were in control of the game, although Granada sparked attacks every now and then, but found themselves not as decisive as they should have been in the final third. Lacking the final touch, they failed to find the equalizer.
In minute 83 of regular play, Arthur Melo, who had just returned from injury, was put on the pitch by Setién, replacing Arturo Vidal, who, once again, had a great performance in the Barcelona midfield.
Riqui Puig clearly was not lacking the confidence needed to operate in midfield, and with the midfield consisting of the La Masia-product, the veteran Sergio Busquets and Arthur, Puig found space. He drove forward brilliantly, found Griezmann in space, but the angle was too tight for the Frenchman, who hit the side-netting.
Barring a free-kick attempt from Granada, which was well defended by Barcelona, the home team kept their hands on the steering wheel for the remainder of the game.
Barcelona’s next challenge is in the Copa del Rey, on Wednesday, when team faces Ibiza, before returning to Liga action in the weekend, where the team has a trip to Valencia’s Estadio Mestalla.