Barcelona’s final game before the international break was far from simple. La Liga’s second-lowest-ranked team, Granada, ground out a phenomenal display against the champions and extracted as much as they could from a weary visiting contingent.
Xavi Hernandez did not change much in the starting lineup keeping in mind the break to club football. Marc-Andre ter Stegen started in goal with Alejandro Balde, Andreas Christensen, Jules Kounde, and Joao Cancelo in defence.
Oriol Romeu made way for Fermin Lopez in midfield as the youngster linked up with Ilkay Gundogan and Gavi. The lineup was completed by Ferran Torres as the centre-forward and Lamine Yamal and Joao Felix flanking him.
Barcelona kicked the game off and did not need the better of 16 seconds to lose possession and concede the opener. Granada’s goal, in itself, was a peach.
Aided by a well-placed ball from Lucas Boye, Bryan Zaragoza displayed a good piece of skill to create an opening and slam the ball past Barcelona’s goalkeeper.
Reeling under the shock of conceding early, Barcelona took their time to find their footing. Granada’s high press did not simplify matters, but the Catalans managed to hold their own and get on the offensive.
The first big chance of the night, as it usually has, fell at the feet of Joao Felix. The Portuguese international was denied by a good piece of goalkeeping.
As the 20-minute mark passed, the Blaugranas took the upper hand in terms of offensive threats. They did not create any glaring opportunities, but were the side with the initiative and who took more shots.
Anti-climactically, they were pegged back by Granada once more. In the 29th minute, Bryan Zaragoza once again outfoxed the Catalans’ defence.
The youngster broke away on the counterattack after being released by Gerard Gumbau before skilfully changing direction twice to eliminate Kounde. He then clipped the ball past Ter Stegen with the outside of his boot.
Things only went downhill for Barcelona when Jules Kounde went down on the pitch after taking a knock to his knee. Despite medical assistance, he could not continue and was replaced by Ronald Araujo.
Late into the first period, Barcelona finally struck gold. A good sequence of buildup found Joao Felix in the box and he sensibly played the ball across the face of the goal to Lamine Yamal who escorted the ball into the goalpost. In the process, he became the youngest goalscorer in La Liga history.
The second half at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes began with Xavi’s men picking up where they left off late in the first half. Felix had a half chance to find Torres, but the duo failed to link up.
Barcelona played with more intent in the second period, winning balls back quickly and transitioning into attack. Improved deliveries over the top created a few chances but none that the team could capitalise on.
Sergi Roberto came on for Fermin Lopez at the hour mark.
Araujo and Torres came painfully close to equalising from a free kick but were spectacularly denied by Andre Ferreira. Oriol Romeu came on for Lamine Yamal in the 75th minute.
The Blaugranas kept pushing as the minutes passed but just did not get the finishing touch. Araujo missed an opportunity by a whisker before Gundogan was denied brilliantly.
The equaliser eventually arrived in controversy-riddled form. Barcelona equalised through a Roberto finish off a Balde cross, but Granada protested for a foul. In the end, the goal stood.
Seconds later, Bryan Zaragoza almost completed his hat-trick and restored the hosts’ lead but struck the woodwork.
Joao Felix seemed to have scored a winner late in the game for Barça but the goal was disallowed for an offside move by Ferran Torres who made no contact with the ball but interfered with play.
The game ended with the points split between the two teams and leaves Barcelona third on the league table, three points behind Real Madrid. Needless to say, they will have their work cut out for them after the international break.