Lionel Messi exchanging words with David Villa was the obvious headline grabber from their lackluster 2-0 win over Granada, as Barcelona were frustrated by playing badly against a stubborn team for most of the match, and later simply denied until almost the very end by a brilliant performance by goalkeeper Toño.
Eventually, it was Xavi that came off the bench and changed the flow and direction of the match, finally giving Barcelona some order, clever passing and directing the passing to the wings instead of trying to burst through the overcrowded middle. With Granada hardly trying to do anything but remain at 0-0, throwing in Christian Tello was the right thing to do for Vilanova, managing to open up the opposing defense by a bit more.
It was Xavi who came up with the winner, scoring a fantastic long range shot that bounced off the cross bar and into the net, ending 87 minutes of frustration and brilliant goalkeeping, making 10 saves before finally being beaten by an unstoppable ball from a man who usually builds up goals instead of scoring them.
The game had to end with Lionel Messi, on a bad day for most of the 90 minutes, somehow being involved in a goal, as his pass to Alexis was intercepted near the goal line by Borja Gomez, clipping it into his own goal. Not a goal Granada deserved to concede in their rather disciplined and successful display in a stadium which they have never come back from with a point, but the praises don’t move you up the La Liga table.
Barcelona can’t function with Xavi and Iniesta, even against one of the weakest teams in the league. Maybe it’s about growing pains, but each time Xavi hasn’t played this season, things haven’t looked good. Thiago and Cesc Fabregas, each in his own way, can’t fill the shoes of the best play-makers in Europe, along with Andrea Pirlo, over the past 7 years.
Thiago is just coming back from injury, trying to show that the wonderkid label wasn’t for nothing, but has a hard time organizing the game and dictating the pace, something Xavi does so well. Fabregas is simply a different kind of player than what the Barcelona system usually calls for when stepping in for Iniesta or Xavi, creating problems with the passing and finishing, with Fabregas finding it hard to be the creator instead of one of the finishers on this team.
After Xavi came on, things looked much better. Someone was finding Dani Alves (very poor crossing) on the right flank, and Xavi added more pressure on the ball, which Thiago still isn’t doing well, forcing turnovers in places Barcelona love to start their attacks from. Fabregas and Alexis suddenly found more space through better movement and passing, but at the end stood Toño.
David Villa? Besides not passing to Messi and arguing with him about it in the first half, there wasn’t anything worth mentioning. Pedro did much better than the striker that is still trying to find his way back from a long injury. He has scored this season, but he’s not as quick to react, not as sharp and not as fast as he is expected to be. Maybe it’s just a matter of time and having better midfielders to create for him. Sometimes, an argument with a fellow player and having a bad day isn’t anything more than that.