Barcelona leave it late to beat Granada
La Liga, Camp Nou - Barcelona 2 (Xavi 87, Gomez og 90+2') Granada 0
Barcelona were frustrated for 87 minutes at home to Granada but eventually emerged 2-0 winners at Camp Nou to retain their 100 per cent record after five games of the Liga season.
Visiting goalkeeper Tono made a succession of brilliant saves to keep Barcelona's outrageously talented team at bay for so long, but his resistance finally ended with three minutes remaining when Xavi scored a scorcher of a shot from the edge of the box.
Lionel Messi then struck the post and, in a late flourish, saw his injury-time cross deflected into the Granada net for an own goal for Borja Gomez as Barcelona secured a victory that took them 11 points clear of Real Madrid having played a game more than their rivals.
The two-goal margin of victory was unfair on the visitors, who frustrated Barca to such a degree in the first half that the usually composed Messi became involved in a heated argument with team-mate David Villa. Indeed, it would prove a testing evening for the Catalans.
Injuries to Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol forced Barcelona to field Javier Mascherano and Alex Song as an unconventional centre-back pairing. While Song was once rated as a better defender than midfielder by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal before evolving into a fine specimen of the latter, Mascherano has made the opposite journey, gradually moulding into a very accomplished stopper since joining Barca as a more conventional holding midfielder.
Their nascent partnership looked rather unconvincing at Camp Nou though. Song was caught in trouble as early as 10 minutes in as he failed to deal with a high ball into the box and was mightily relieved to see Antonio Floro Flores put his firm shot straight at Victor Valdes as he sought to take advantage.
Uncertainty struck the Barca backline again when they completely failed to deal with a corner. The ball popped up nicely for Moreno Mikel Rico but the Granada midfielder thundered his volley over the bar when he should really have tested Valdes.
Defensive indecision was married to problems in attack. A front three that boasted Villa from the start for the first time in 10 months following his recovery from injury failed to function properly and even Messi was somewhat subdued in the opening half hour, Barcelona's best chance falling to Cesc Fabregas as he saw a rifled volley just about saved by Tono.
After Barcelona were opened up once again as Guillherme Siqueira held off Mascherano to force Valdes into a save from a tight angle, though, Messi showed the force of his talent as he started to take control of the match.
On 36 minutes he rolled a pass into Busquets in the box and hared after it, anticipating the return which came in the form of a cunning backheel. Messi took the ball in his unmistakeable stride and only a superb intervention from Inigo Lopez prevented his shot from planting in the Granada net.
Lopez repeated the trick minutes later following a gorgeous touch and shot from Messi, who then chipped in a wonderful pass for Thiago to take the ball on his chest and see his shot deflect behind for a corner.
But Messi's team-mates were not matching his exalted standards and towards the end of the half the club's all-time record goalscorer was seen to be exchanging angry words with Villa. Not an unusual occurrence on a football pitch, but Messi rarely loses his composure in such fashion and it revealed much about his frustration with Granada's massed ranks of defenders and Barcelona's inability to break them down.
Villa, having tested Tono with a neat first-time shot following a lovely team move, lasted only eight minutes of the second half as he and Thiago made way for Pedro and Xavi, but still Granada defended superbly. Siqueira made an important interception to prevent Messi from getting on the end of an Adriano cross while Messi was denied again by a fine low save from Tono after receiving a through-ball from Dani Alves.
The Granada goalkeeper was excelling and on 77 minutes he made a remarkable save to deny Fabregas. The midfielder did almost everything right as the ball rolled into his path in the box and he curled a shot towards the bottom corner, but Tono was given just enough of a chance to get his fingertips to the ball and touch it round the post.
Within two minutes he had outdone even that save. Xavi seemed certain to score when the ball was played to him in a central position 12 yards from goal, but Tono flung himself along the ground to repel the low effort from the Barcelona skipper. As the minutes ticked by, he made further impressive saves from Messi and Alexis.
As Barcelona surged forward looking for a winner they left themselves exposed on the break and substitute Youssef El Arabi should have put Granada in front when going through completely unmarked and firing a shot against the frame of Valdes.
Potential disaster transformed into overwhelming relief on 87 minutes though when Xavi put Barca in front. The midfielder took possession of the ball on the edge of the box and when the ball popped up off the turf thundered a tremendous volley off the underside of the bar. Camp Nou erupted when then ball nestled in the back of the net and Tono was finally beaten.
Barca were not content with one though and after Messi struck the outside of the post following a pass from Pedro, they doubled their lead in injury time. Messi showed tremendous persistence to fight for the ball and play in a cross from the left and Gomez turned the ball into his own net when attempting to prevent Alexis from tapping in at the back post.
It was not Barcelona's most complete performance, and there are issues to be addressed for Tito Vilanova, but an 11-point advantage over Madrid still looks impressive at this early stage of the season.