Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez save sloppy Barcelona in Granada
Barcelona achieved a decisive 3-1 win away at Granada in round 25 of La Liga action on Saturday. Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi scored for the club, who enjoyed 70 percent of possession, created 16 goal-scoring chances and attempted 16 shots, nine of them on target.
Luis Enrique introduced several changes to his preferred 11, including players who have enjoyed less and less playing time as the season has developed. The Catalans' level of intensity and fluency when on the ball dropped as a result, but, ultimately, their overall quality and enviable firepower up front enabled them to obtain the all-important away victory.
Despite Barca not delivering a vintage performance, they did enough to grab three crucial points that will help pile on the pressure on league leaders Real Madrid. Regardless of whether Madrid can maintain their four-point gap at the top of table by defeating Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday, it is reassuring to see Barcelona returning to winning ways domestically.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Claudio Bravo, 6 -- Made a crucial save just before halftime that could have changed the direction of the game. Only beaten by a well-struck penalty by Fran Rico. Effectively played as a sweeper from that point onwards, confident with his feet when needed.
DF Dani Alves, 6 -- The Brazilian did not push forward often but did make a positive difference when doing so. It feels as if Alves has become more aware of the limitations that come with age under Luis Enrique, which is making his defensive game more solid.
DF Marc Bartra, 5 -- Perhaps as a result of the ever-decreasing amount of playing time he has been granted of late, this was certainly not the Catalan youngster's best performance. Gave away the unnecessary penalty that resulted in Granada's goal with a late, clumsy challenge. Let's hope he gets enough confidence from Luis Enrique to recover the form that impressed earlier on in the season.
DF Jeremy Mathieu, 5 -- Looked uncomfortable from beginning to end, giving rivals too much time and space to pick their next move. Sure, the French international has not played alongside Bartra on too many occasions but, regardless, his pressing and positioning should have been better.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- Zoomed up and down Barca's left flank as usual, but his connection with Neymar was not as fluent as in recent games. Disciplined defensively, however.
MF Javier Mascherano, 7 -- Faultless once again. Started the game holding the team's midfield, moved to the heart of defence as soon as Busquets was introduced late in the second half. Effective when tackling, intelligent enough to read the game from beginning to end. A true leader who adds much-needed consistency time and time again.
MF Xavi Hernandez, 5 -- Little short of invisible in the middle of the park, the club captain did not get as involved in attacking transitions as has been the norm over the last decade. It looks like regularly being left out of the manager's lineup has taken much-needed sharpness out of his game.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 9 -- Unbalanced the game in the Catalans' favour after striking a loose ball in the Granada area firmly into the back of the net. Assisted brilliantly for the decisive second goal by Suarez, then created the play that generated the team's third. Slowly but surely becoming a key regular that Barcelona can't do without.
FW Neymar, 5 -- A quiet game by his standards. Got involved from the left wing but did not look as sharp or dynamic as usual, failing to deliver many dangerous through balls or attempt his trademark dribbling slaloms as often. While his commitment is undeniable, the time is perhaps right for Luis Enrique to rest him so that he is back to his best when crucial games such as El Clasico or the return leg against Manchester City are played at the end of March.
FW Luis Suarez, 8 -- Without a doubt, the most decisive Barcelona forward on the park. Scored his fifth league goal of the season, then went on to selflessly set up Messi for the team's third. Constantly pushing in order to generate spaces, whether that be fighting his way between the rival's centre-halves or testing offside traps. Didn't look too pleased when being replaced by Pedro late in the second half, a sign that revealed his ultra-competitive spirit despite the match being virtually won at that point.
FW Lionel Messi, 7 -- As has been the norm in recent times, eager to connect with his teammates with quick one-two combinations or by playing early, diagonal balls over Granada's backline. The way in which he changed direction and managed to dribble through the tiniest of gaps generated some spaces he was only too happy to take advantage of. Scored Barca's third with a gently accurate tap-in -- his seventh in the last four away league matches.
MF Rafinha, 6 -- Replaced Xavi after 66 minutes. Did not get enough touches to make a difference in midfield.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 -- Replaced Mathieu with a quarter of an hour left, adding consistency that helped the Catalans' secure the victory.
FW Pedro Rodriguez, 6 -- Introduced for Suarez after 79 minutes. Came close to scoring, but his lobbed shot went straight to the hands of Granada's keeper.