FC Barcelona v Granada: Five out of five?

A FCB's players / FOTO: ARXIU FCB
22.00, GolT, Canal+ Liga –Tito Vilanova’s side entertains Granada at the Camp Nou in a bid to make it five wins out five this season against a side that has yet to celebrate a single victory

The Champions League and the thriller on Wednesday against Spartak Moscow are now behind them. 72 hours after their European debut, FC Barcelona will be looking to maintain their one hundred per cent record in la Liga as they host Granada. A win would leave the league leaders in the perfect position before two of the trickiest fixtures of the season, the trip to the Sánchez Pizjuán (September 29) and the clásico against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou (October 7).

Jordi Alba back

FC Barcelona face the Andalusians with a number of absences in their rearguard. Without Puyol and Piqué, Tito Vilanova will need to change his defensive plans. The most likely candidates to join Mascherano as the other centre back are Bartra and Song, although Sergio Busquets has also shown in the past that he’s capable of playing in that position. But those problems aside, Barça can welcome back Jordi Alba, who is now fully recovered from a nasty attack of the flu.

Granada winless

It’s still early days in the domestic championship, but there are already alarm bells ringing in the Granada camp. The side now managed by Juan Antonio Anquela, who worked such wonders at Alcorcón when they knocked Real Madrid out of the cup in 2009, have yet to win a match this season. They have only two points in their account so far, picked up in home draws against Sevilla (1-1) and Deportivo (1-1). On the road, they have yet to even score, having lost 1-0 at Vallecas and 3-0 at the Bernabéu.

Perfect fifteen Vilanova’s only concern

Tito Vilanova ha atès els mitjans abans de rebre dissabte el Granada / FOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
The Barça manager has insisted that he is only thinking about Saturday’s match with Granada, which “won’t be easy because they’re a well-organised team that’s strong on the counter attack”

Asked whether Puyol and Piqué are likely to be fit in time for the clásico, Vilanova said that “we never force a player into being ready for a match because the most important thing is their health”

Messi the best ever

Tito Vilanova also had yet more praise for Leo Messi. “He is the best player in the world and surely the best ever. For all Barça fans it would be joy if he sees his career out here. Hopefully we can enjoy seeing him for many more years because we will never see a player like Messi again”.

“if Bartra is in the first team it’s because he’s good enough to play. The season has only just started and Marc will get games”

Only one thing is troubling Tito Vilanova right now, and that’s Granada. He doesn’t want to hear a word about the clásico against Real Madrid on October 7. “What I’m concerned about is getting 15 points out of 15, something that hasn’t been done very often” he said. And although they are at home against a side that hasn’t won yet this season, “people shouldn’t think that it will be an easy match, because they are a well organised team, very strong on the counter attack and good at strategy”.

Not forcing anybody

Neither does Tito Vilanova think it would be a good idea to rush the recoveries of Puyol and Piqué in order for them to be ready for the showdown with Madrid. “As long as I am coach, we’ll never force a player into being ready for a match, because the most important thing is their health”.

Asked about the possible options to cover for Puyol and Piqué against Granada, one of the names that came up was that of Marc Bartra. Said Vilanova, “if Bartra is in the first team it’s because he’s good enough to play. The season has only just started and Marc will get games”.

No debate about Cesc

Vilanova didn’t want to get involved in any questioning of Cesc’s form. “If there’s any debate, I know nothing about it” he said. “In my mind, there’s no debating him. He has had some great games as a central midfielder and I don’t know what’s so bad about a player being a bit anarchic. Sometimes you need that to break down defences”.

21 players prepare for Granada match

Jordi Alba rep l'alta mèdica / FOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Tito Vilanova worked today with 19 first team players plus Barça B’s Tello and Sergi Roberto, as the side prepares for the home fixture on Saturday evening against Granada

The injured Carles Puyol worked out in isolation from the rest of the squad

On Friday, the first team trained for the second to last time before their Liga fixture with Granada on Saturday night, which kicks off at 10.00 in the Camp Nou. There were 19 first team players involved in today’s workout, including Jordi Alba, who has been missing from recent games with the flu. Barça B’s Tello and Sergi Roberto also joined the session.

Separate workout for Puyol

Against Granada, Tito Vilanova is going to have to deal with the absences of all of Puyol, Piqué, Iniesta, Cuenca, Muniesa and Abidal. The captain was at today’s session, but worked out separately in the company of a fitness coach. Carles Puyol is hoping to make a quick recovery from pulled cruciate ligaments in his left knee.

The squad will train one last time, at the Camp Nou and behind closed doors, at 12.30 on Saturday morning.

Coping well without @carles5puyol and @3gerardpique

Puyol i Piqué, a Getafe / FOTO: ARXIU FCB
FC Barcelona won 71% of their games without Puyol or Piqué

In 24 games, FCB has only lost four games, two of which were in meaningless matches

Tito Vilanova will be missing Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué for the next few games. That means a complete reworking of his back line, but not for the first time in recent years, and the team has such strength in depth that it has generally managed quite nicely without its two most experienced centre backs. Since 2008, when Piqué signed for Barça, the duo have been absent for 24 matches, and of those, FC Barcelona have won 71% (17 wins, three draws and four losses).

No defeat for two years

The stats show that defeats made up a mere 17%, but that figure is even more impressive when we analyse the circumstances. Two of the defeats came in the 2008/09 league season against Osasuna and Mallorca, when the title had already been secured, and the Supercup match at the start of the 2010/11 season was against Sevilla, in which Barça were missing all of its Spanish internationals and fielded Sergi Gómez and Milito in the middle of the defence. Two years have passed since then, and the only other defeat without Puyol and Piqué, and the only one without an ‘excuse’, was in the Copa del Rey, again against Sevilla (1-2), in the 2009/10 season.

Wins against Porto and Arsenal

Some of the wins have come in important matches, such as the European Supercup against Porto (2-0) a year ago and the crunch Champions League second round match in 2010/11 against Arsenal (3-1). Last year, like this coming weekend, Barça faced Granada without Puyol or Piqué, and won at Los Cármenes thanks to a Xavi goal (0-1).

Song, Bartra and Busquets, first choices

With the two Catalans out, Tito Vilanova has a number of options to provide a partner for Mascherano, who has already played five games this season and seems an automatic choice for the position. Against Spartak, the coach went for Alex Song. The Cameroonian has played in this position before, but needs time to adapt to the way Barça’s back four pushes so far up the field. Marc Bartra is more used to that system, while there is a third option in Titol.

Otherwise, there is always Sergio Busquets, who filled in at centre back a couple of seasons ago, while Fontàs, who has not been used in any games so far, could also do the job.