A challenging fortnight begins for Barça with an away game to Granada.
With no mid-week game last week, the team even had 2 days off and 6 days in total to recover and prepare for what will be a decisive and intense 15 days.
Prepare yourselves, culés!
16th Feb: Granada vs. Barça (La Liga @ 20:00 CET)
20th Feb: AC Milan vs. Barça (Champions League @ 20:45 CET)
23rd Feb: Barça vs. Sevilla (La Liga @ 22:00 CET)
26th Feb: Barça vs. Real Madrid (Copa del Rey @ 21:00 CET)
2nd Mar: Real Madrid vs. Barça (La Liga @ 16:00 CET)
These will be the matches in which the results will determine whether the team will make it hard or easy for themselves for the rest of the season.
~ Wins or draws in La Liga will strengthen their hold on the lead.
~ A win at San Siro (a.k.a. Stadio Giuseppe Meazza) will give them an upper hand in this CL knock-out leg.
~ A win (or a highly unlikely 0-0 draw) in the CdR sees the team progress to the Final against either At. Madrid or Sevilla.
One step at a time, beginning with tonight’s game.
“The team has to face every game without dwelling on past performances. Prior to every game, I always have to think about what things will be of benefit to the team and what will improve it. If you think optimistically that things will turn out well, you can often get a good result.” ~ Lucas Alcaraz in this week’s press conference.
Poor results prior to Christmas had Granada’s former coach, Juan Antonio Anquela, dumped out of his job after the first game of 2013. In came Lucas Alcaraz.
Alcaraz is one of a rare breed of football managers who didn’t play football in any serious capacity prior to becoming a coach. He’s no stranger to Granada – born and bred in the city – and his first coaching job was at Granada CF between 1995 and 1998 while they were in the 3rd Division.
Since then, he’s gone through 10 other mostly unsuccessful stints with other teams (including 2 at Almeria) before landing back at Granada.
It’s as if he knows that this is probably his last chance to prove himself, (or maybe he’s happier now that he’s back in his home town), because the team results have been largely successful since he took over.
Where does Granada Stand?
In the 5 games under Alcaraz, Granada has lost to Sevilla, drawn with Getafe and won against Rayo, Real Madrid and Deportivo.
Those first 2 games are notable victories. Rayo is currently 6th on the Liga Table and doing good things. This puts them in Europa League contention, although they’re being hotly pursued by Sociedad, Betis and Levante.
The win against Madrid was remarkable, given that they won 1-0 without a single shot on goal in the entire game. A headed Cristiano own-goal gave them the extraordinary victory, much to the rapturous delight of their partisan home crowd.
Sitting 14th with 26 points, Granada can’t afford to relax, especially with Bilbao (26 points), Zaragoza (24) and Osasuna (22) close behind and the only buffer between them and the relegation spots. (Mind you, the way in which Celta, Mallorca and Depor are playing at the moment, it’s going to take some small miracles to shift them out of relegation.)
Without looking too deeply into it, I reckon that Granada has one of the most International teams there is, with players from Spain, Argentina, Cameroon, Morocco, Algeria, Brazil, Senegal, Colombia, Romania and Nigeria in their ranks.
Out of the 13 Granada players that are currently out on-loan, there are also reps from Ghana, Czech Republic, Scotland, Switzerland, Chile and Venezuela.
That’s 16 different countries. We only had 13 different nationalities at our wedding!
In 2009, the club was in such dire financial straits that it almost folded. Salvation came in the form of a partnership with Italian Club Udinese Calcio. Granada is now the recipient of on-loan players from Udinese as well as helping to develop its youth players and reserves.
The club currently has 4 players in its First Team on-loan from Udinese – Cameroonian Allan Nyom, Spaniard Dani Benítez (Dani Alves’ nemesis), Romanian Gabriel Torje and Nigerian Odion Ighalo.
After 22 years in lower divisions, Granada regained entry into the Liga Primera last season. They were almost demoted (losing their last game of the season to Rayo), but finished in 17th after Villarreal was heart-breakingly defeated (by At. Madrid) to take the last demotion spot.
New Players for the Club
Granada was very active in the January transfer window and picked up some solid players to reinforce their squad: 3 Mid-fielders and 1 Forward.
Former Barça B player, Nolito, has arrived on-loan from Benfica. He supplied the corner kick from which Cristiano scored to give Granada the win against Madrid, so you could say that his impact has been immediate!
Perhaps one of the more surprising moves was that of Argentinean Diego Buonanotte from Málaga to Granada on a 4.5 year contract. Just as he was starting to be more called upon by Pellegrini (Buananotte scored that sublime free-kick against Barça back in January), he upped sticks and left, claiming that he needed more playing time. (Diego’s personal – and playing life – were severely hampered by a car accident on an Argentine freeway in 2009 in which he lost control of the car that he was driving. 3 friends in the car were killed and Diego sustained serious injuries. Initially his recovery time was set at 7 months, but within 5 months he was back on the pitch playing on-loan at River Plate.)
José Luis García del Pozo (b.k.a. Recio) is on-loan from Málaga and scored his first goal for the club in the 2-0 win against Rayo.
32yo Forward Carlos Aranda has joined Granada from Zaragoza. A former Madrid Academy player, after leaving RM in 2001 Aranda has done the rounds of a lot of Spanish clubs before returning to Granada for his second stint at the club.
Perhaps the thorn in the side of Barça, as far as the Granada team is concerned, is their GK Antonio Rodríguez Martínez, (b.k.a. Toño) who, like Valencia’s Diego Alves, can seemingly get into the minds of the Blaugrana players and stop them from scoring goals. Toño had a great game at Camp Nou earlier this season where he made fingertip save after save. It wasn’t until a determined Xavi was subbed on and blasted a high shot (that made it into the net after bouncing off the underside of the bar) that the stalemate was broken in the 86th minute, and the home side went on to win 2-0 after a Messi shot rebounded off Granada’s Borja.
Young Romanian Right-winger Gabriel Torje will be one to watch. He was the stand-out player in the game against Madrid a couple of weeks ago.
Moroccan NT Forward, Yousef El-Arabi has 4 goals credited to him for this season. Together with Brazilian Left-back Guilherme Siqueria who also has 4 goals, they lead the Goal Tally table for Granada.
The recognised play-maker for the team is 31yo Brazilian Iriney Santos da Silva. Whenever he’s on the pitch, you can be sure that the ball cycles through him and he’s a go-to guy for set pieces.
Sitting out injured are 2 players. The down-and-dirty street-fighter that is the Left-back/Mid-fielder Dani Benítez has a hamstring injury and Mid-fielder Fran Rico is sporting a knee injury.
The Travelling Blauberries
Dos Santos is once more mopping the floors and turning off the lights at home; injured Xavi wins time with Núria; David Villa recovers from kidney stones and gets more huggy-time with Luca, and Abidal is waiting for final clearance which may turn into a Roving Ambassador role for the club if he can’t play again.
The squad is: Valdés, Pinto, Dani Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Puyol, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Adriano, Thiago, Busquets, Song, Iniesta, Fàbregas, Alexis, Pedro, Messi and Tello.
I expect that Puyol may get a seat on the bench to rest him for the Milan game, as will Iniesta.
My guess at the line-up would be: VV, Alves, Piqué, Masch, Alba, Thiago, Busi, Cesc, Pedro, Messi, Alexis.
The team, Tito and Jordi will be wanting a win to regain some successful away form after the loss to Sociedad and the draw against Valencia.
The game kicks off at 20:00 CET on Saturday 16th February
Click here to convert the match time to your timezone: Granada CF vs. FC Barcelona