Barça trip up at the worst moment and let the lead slip away (1-2)
The Granada ups their game in the second half and Koeman's team no longer depends on itself
BarcelonaJust when it was time to take the last step to finally reach to the summit, Barça suffered a slip as painful as unexpected. In the worst moment, when nobody expected it. Neither Koeman, who was sent off, nor the players, nor fans who took for granted that the game against Granada was a sure win. But if in the Cup it was Barça who fought back with a comeback that was celebrated as a title, in the league Diego Martinez's team has taken its revenge in the second half. In the first half Messi scored a goal that finally put Barça totop of the league, but by the second half the team run out of gas. And Granada plundered the Camp Nou. It took the food off Barça's plate just as Koeman's team was about to enjoy a great feast. They stole their wallet as they walked out of the bank with a good wad of notes inside.
Barça's misfortune fired the hearts of Sevilla fans, who suddenly find themselves just three points off the pace in a league with four contenders. And it allowed both a limp Atletico to lick their wounds after their defeat in Bilbao, and gives a Madrid - which hadn't won a game since El Clásico - another chance. In fact, the defeat against Granada broke Barça's rhythm. It was looking to have won 60 of the last 69 available points. Now, instead, it has won just three of the last nine in a league that was Barça's to lose. Now it's all to play for again. With four contenders looking at each other half in surprise as they all stumble when no one expects them to.
It could not be so easy, in fact. This was the season of the seven biblical plagues at the Camp Nou. The season of debts, mismanagement, scandals on social media and in the courts, Kafkaesque elections, court communications and a squad without any new signings. The season in which at times Barça fans adopted a 1980s mentality, thinking about surviving and getting by as they could. And if the Cup could be won, so much the better, because after losing in Cádiz, Barça was 12 points behind an Atlético Madrid that then seemed unbeatable. But an unprecendeted comeback had allowed Koeman's side to face Granada knowing that if they won, the league would be in their hands. Knowing that all their rivals would have to try to chase them down. Koeman, aware that the team had suffered too much in Villarreal, rested Pedri and Lenglet. The young Pedri, who for much of the season was light in darkness, could no longer say a word after so many games. On the other hand, Ilaix Moriba is all energy. He continued to gain experience in a midfield where Sergio Busquets has turned the season where he seemed destined to be a substitute, into one where he has proven some players can be like wine: over the years, they get better. Koeman, thinking of looking after Lenglet or perhaps because he is superstitious, also decided to play Umtiti in the center of the three-man defence. Funnily enough, the former Lyon player has had very few games but he has always done so against Granada: both games in the league, as well as the one in the cup.
With a tight schedule - two games a week - Barça knew that it would be hard work against Granada. It is a team that has a strong personality and always competes. Diego Martínez's team did not want to play the role of guest in a Barça party. The result was a hard match at times, where Barça almost always knew how to cut off Granada's counterattacks. In attack, on the other hand, Koeman's team found it hard. But where geniuses meet ideas are always born. Griezmann and Messi combined: the Frenchman's move seemed straight out of a video game, spinning around the ball, giving it back to the Argentine on a platter. Messi didn't miss.
The match, however, was getting long for Barça despite the display of an omnipresent Busquets, with this style of play where he seems to walk around only half-awake, and yet get to where the ball is. Griezmann and De Jong missed two chances to score a second goal, and in almost the first away chance, Umtiti was slow, Mingueza failed to block a ball and Sergi Roberto was slower than Darwin Machis, who left Barça so stunned that Koeman lost his temper, getting himself sent off. There was half an hour left to put the game in order, but if Diego Martinez got it right with substitutions, Koeman, already in the stands, was not. And instead of finding the way to a goal for the win, it was the veteran Jorge Molina who headed the ball in alone to leave a Barça team that already took the lead for granted looking rather stupid.