Having all but secured their berth in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals with a comprehensive victory over city rivals Espanyol, Barcelona now have the chance to return to the top spot of La Liga when they welcome Granada at Camp Nou today.
Luis Enrique’s men ran riot in an ill-tempered Catalan derby on Wednesday as Lionel Messi’s brace guided Barca secure a well-deserved first-leg advantage aided by the marching orders of Herman Perez and Papakouli Diop late on.
Diop was shown second yellow card after a bust up with Luis Suarez who, in turn, is alleged to have started the confrontation between both team’s players in the tunnel after the match.
Barcelona will now travel to Cornella El Prat with progression all-but assured and can strengthen their defence of another trophy (La Liga) this weekend when they welcome a struggling Granada before league leaders Atletico Madrid visit Celta Vigo tomorrow.
Three draws from their last four La Liga fixtures has seen Luis Enrique’s men slip two points behind Atletico Madrid, having played a match less, however Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan are now ready to boost Barcelona’s title hopes.
Both the players made their long awaited Barca debuts against Espanyol in the last match, having been forced to watch from sideline for the last six months because of the club’s transfer ban imposed by FIFA.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this day and it finally happened,” Vidal was excited about his debut. “We’re very thankful for the way people appreciate the effort we made while awaiting the expiration of the sanction.
“This was not an easy game to make a debut. I think Arda was up to the task but I came out when the game was a bit more locked up.”
On the other hand, Jose Ramon Sandoval’s Granada boys endured contrasting fortunes to Barcelona in their Copa del Rey first leg, having been defeated 4-0 to Valencia at Mestalla, after moving out of La Liga’s bottom three last weekend.
Sunday’s 2-1 victory against Sevilla was enough to guide Granada up to 17th place although Sandoval’s team will be wary of an away fixture at Camp Nou following their 6-0 humiliation in the La Liga last season.
Speaking about their midweek defeat, Sandoval said to the reporters: “We did not deserve to be losing by so much. In the second half, the two penalties, that sums it up.
“I do not think it was a game that reflected a 4-0 scoreline. Valencia have won with two strikes and two penalties. Without producing an intense performance we have not been able to get into the game. Now we go to the Camp Nou and we know it will be a difficult game because they always have the ball, but my team will always try to prove themselves.”
Barcelona – Manager Luis Enrique has no new injury concerns right now. Midfielder Sergi Roberto has recovered from a thigh injury which forced him to sit out the Copa del Rey tie against Espanyol and is available for selection. Also Suarez’s two match ban for alleged racist comments is for the Cup tournament, not in La Liga, so he will be there in the upfront to support Messi and Neymar.
Granada – Left-back Cristiano Biraghi returns to action for the visitors following a one-match ban. Granada also has no such injury concerns.
Barcelona (all competitions): WWWDW
Last result: Barcelona 4-1 Espanyol (Copa del Rey)
Granada (all competitions): LWLLW
Last result: Valencia 4-0 Granada (Copa del Rey)
Barcelona win: 1/20
Granada win: 33/1
Barcelona predicted line-up: Bravo; Vidal, Pique, Vermaelen, Mathieu; Turan, Busquets, Roberto; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Granada predicted line-up: Fernandez; Foulquier, Mainz, Lomban, Biraghi; Rico, Perez, Marquez; Lopez, Penaranda, Mendez
A comprehensive home victory for Barcelona with 3-0 scoreline.