Thursday evening’s Champions League draw, which saw Real Madrid pull out the teams to avoid in both pot three and pot four, was followed by the good news of Granada’s qualification for the Europa League group stage. They beat Malmö 3-1 in Sweden to complete a successful journey through the preliminary rounds, and joined fellow Spanish representatives Villarreal and Real Sociedad in the hat for Friday lunchtime’s draw (the results of which can be found here). It’s Granada’s first time in Europe and, because of that late La Real goal against Atlético Madrid on LaLiga’s final day last term, they have been forced to take the long route, negotiating no fewer than three qualifiers. It’ll make reaching the competition proper taste all the sweeter for Los Nazaríes.
Messi strolls about... until the ref gets his back up
Attentions then turned to Barcelona, who went to Balaídos looking for points and a performance. Like at the Camp Nou in their season opener, Ansu Fati set them on their way, scoring with a crisp finish that was by no means easy to execute - a strike of real wiliness that served to cement further his burgeoning reputation. Lionel Messi, meanwhile, strolled about. After his conciliatory remarks the other day, I was expecting more, but he didn’t look all that committed… until, that is, referee Carlos del Cerro Grande angered him into action with his eagerness to send off one of Barça’s centre-backs (he had to take back the red card he waved at Gerard Piqué, but soon made up for that by dismissing Clément Lenglet). Messi protested, politely but with quite the frown on his face.
Before the sides came out for the second half, there was then a second exchange of views caught by the TV cameras, as Del Cerro explained himself to Messi and Piqué, with Ronald Koeman also listening in. Messi clearly wasn’t convinced by what he heard, because he came flying out of the traps, fuelled by the adrenaline rush he gets when irked, and decided there were scores to settle. Barça were down to 10 (Antoine Griezmann, who made as much of an impact on the pitch as off it, was sacrificed), but with Messi in the zone, the visitors quickly doubled their lead, and were denied a third because of a tight offside call. Another goal did come at the end, however, after a display of solidity from Barça against a Celta side who lacked bottle. Koeman has made an encouraging start.