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Luis Enrique probably won’t mind being wrong this time. After all, FC Barcelona’s head coach spent the last two days repeatedly warning his players that Saturday’s opponent would be no cakewalk. He said Granada were tough defensively and dangerous on the counterattack. And while the opening minutes were slow to develop once again for Barça’s feared attack, the opposing defence slowly wilted and eventually collapsed.
The great wall
The two sides took the field to a packed house as a rare 6.00 PM CET start time brought out the Barça faithful in droves. The opening minutes saw Barça move the ball easily and fluidly around the centre of the field, looking for openings and occasionally getting deep into Granada territory. At the 15-minute mark, it became clear that Granada indeed was going to bring everyone back on defence. Barça continued to push ever closer to the goal. Several shots were sprayed but the Andalusian defence came away unscathed.
Barça breaks through
Just as it was starting to look like another night spent trying to solve a defensive riddle, in the 25th minute Neymar Jr. took advantage of an ugly miscue on Granada’s back line, closed in and fired a shot off the defender’s leg, the ball flying in slow motion over the head of a helplessly falling goalkeeper who had been fooled by the deflection. Then in the 42nd minute, Messi waltzed around Granada’s left back, made it to the end line, and deftly crossed the ball through a crowd, finding the head of Ivan Rakitic who knocked it home for a 2-0 lead. And just two minutes later, with Granada anxious to get to halftime, Neymar struck again to make it 3-0.
After the break Barça had all the momentum it needed. With the game looking to be comfortably under control and the opposition taking a few more risks on attack, the home side went to work. First, Messi decided to get in on the action in the 61st minute, combining with Xavi and Dani Alves on a beautiful give and go. It was Messi’s 400th professional goal. In the 65th minute, Neymar, in a brilliant show of one-upmanship, secured a hat-trick with a great pass from Messi, firing from around the penalty spot right into the back of the net to make it 5-0. And then fittingly, Messi finished off the scoring with a steal and then walked in on goal all alone for an 81st minute score, Barça’s sixth and final tally of the day.
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