Lionel Messi’s La Liga debut this season wasn’t enough to save Barcelona against Granada. (Getty)
Barcelona’s anxiety over life without Lionel Messi has been a recurring theme in recent seasons.
Even he couldn’t bail them out of their worst La Liga start in 25 years.
Newly promoted Granada stunned Barcelona 2-0 on Saturday despite Messi coming on at halftime, thanks to a quick strike by Ramon Azeez in the second minute and a penalty by Alvaro Vadillo in the 66th.
Messi was influential, creating several chances that neither he nor his teammates could convert. As a result, the intimate but raucous Los Cármenes venue watched Barcelona limp to just seven points from its first five league matches, the lowest total since taking five over the same stretch to start the 1994-95 campaign.
Much of the criticism has fallen on the shoulders of manager Ernesto Valverde, and he doesn’t seem to have any answers for a side completely devoid of imagination and incisive play. Big summer signings Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong failing to register thus far, and the experience in the side woefully underperforming. The lone bright spot has been the relative emergence of 16-year-old Ansu Fati, but he’s too young to be a consistent match-winner.
Barcelona was behind the 8-ball almost immediately on Saturday, when Roberto Soldado dispossessed Júnior Firpo and played Antonio Puertas around the stumbling fullback. Puertas’ cross was deflected where it was met by the onrushing Azeez (via beIN Sports):
Perhaps a foul could have been called on Puertas early in the build-up for shouldering down Clément Lenglet before the 50-50 ball arrived, but Barcelona still had so much time and space to recover such complaints would fall on deaf ears.
Puertas played a covert role in the second goal as well. He ducked away from positioning against Barcelona’s Arturo Vidal in the box on a cross, and Vidal’s arm was raised expecting contact. Instead, the ball deflected to the ground and VAR correctly awarded a penalty:
Vadillo coolly sent goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen the wrong direction to double the advantage:
So Messi and Barcelona chased a path back into the game, and it never came.
For its part, Granada is now top of the table on goal differential through five rounds. Not bad for a club that was in the Segunda División a season ago, although a winner in Sunday’s Real Madrid-Sevilla match would overtake them.
So they’re in unfamiliar territory, even early in the season. Barcelona, meanwhile, is in distressingly familiar territory in needing Messi as much as they ever have.
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