Why Alexis Sanchez Was the Catalyst in a Lackluster Barca Win

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Why Alexis Sanchez Was the Catalyst in a Lackluster Barca Win
David Ramos/Getty Images
Alexis Sanchez is in a rich vein of form at the moment.

Barcelona were a much-changed outfit as they took to the field against an improving Granada side.

With Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Dani Alves and Victor Valdes all missing, this game represented an opportunity for Martin Montoya to press his claims again for a regular starting berth, and for Jose Manuel Pinto to remind the Camp Nou faithful of his quality.

Tata Martino decided on Neymar for the central role in which he has excelled during Lionel Messi's absences, with Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez occupying the wide positions.

On-form Sanchez almost got the party started after only 42 seconds, bursting through the visiting defence to register the first shot on target. It would be the shape of things to come from the busy right winger.

Any early momentum unsurprisingly came from Barca, the majority via Sanchez's right hand channel. No doubt that Martino was looking to exploit the Chilean's hot streak in front of goal.

In keeping with other games this season we saw a tactical change effected by Barca's manager as early as the eighth minute. Neymar's move to the right hand side saw Sanchez taking up his favoured central position, and it almost paid immediate dividends. 

David Ramos/Getty Images
Neymar only showed flashes of his quality today.

Neymar showed an unusual lack of composure when well-placed just a few minutes later, his rushed shot sent well over the bar. Such profligacy also affected his team-mates and that will have concerned Martino, the ball being given away far too easily by the Blaugrana in those early stages.

Granada came into this match in reasonable form themselves but were unable to take advantage of poor control and low concentration levels not usually associated with Barca.

Captain-for-the-day Andres Iniesta calmed any nerves by dispatching a 19th minute penalty. However, it was impossible to ignore the lacklustre way Barca's players were going about their business.

Granada's more aggressive style allowed them to get more of a foothold in the match and Piti's 30-yarder deserved an equaliser, the crossbar saving the home side on this occasion.

Iturra and El Arabi allowed their effusiveness to spill over and both went into the book before the half hour for taking out Neymar, who was carded himself on 27 for a needless foul.

A period of sustained Barca pressure around the half hour mark almost saw another Barca goal, but poor final balls again put paid to any change to the scoreline. 

In the lead up to half-time Sanchez was decisive. A sharp and incisive pass found Iniesta who was upended, giving Barca their second penalty of the match on 39. A staggered Fabregas run up deceived Roberto and the home side doubled their advantage.

The Chilean's movement and inter-play was purposeful, in contrast to his colleagues, and he played with a swagger that was missing for long periods of last season. 

Perhaps noting Sanchez's previous tendency to overplay, Martino would appear to have identified a need for him to keep things simple, allowing the wide-man to get back to doing what he does best.

An able and direct patrolling of that right channel saw Sanchez well placed to received two delightful cross-field passes before half time, a tactic that is becoming the hallmark of Martino's Barca.

With unnecessary fouls peppering the first few minutes of the second half, the game began to stagnate and the 71,000 in attendance demanded more.

The Blaugrana responded reasonably well, edging forward and driving play, and Sanchez was once again to the fore in a move that ended with Pedro blazing over despite it being easier to register. 

Neymar began to drop much deeper allowing Fabregas to slot in as the "false nine", and this smart act by Martino is what finally took the game away from Granada.

Essentially the Brazilian had a free reign and he routinely pulled the opposition out of position freeing up space in all attacking areas of the pitch.

It was a nightmare to defend, but there were still far too many instances of lax play, Neymar himself wasting a great chance on 55 when put through by Iniesta.

B/R's own Tom Sunderland has already identified the need for the youngster to start adding goals to his account, and this game was another perfect opportunity for him to enhance his burgeoning reputation.

David Ramos/Getty Images
Barcelona B starlet Adama Traore made a cameo appearance towards the end of the match.

Once Iturra was sent off for a ridiculous challenge on 65, the match was effectively over. It was Sanchez who finally put the game beyond the reach of the away side a few minutes later.

Jose Manuel Pinto produced some heroics on 70 minutes to keep out Nyom as he bulldozed his way into the box, and immediately the ball found its way to Neymar. A delightful through-ball fed Sanchez who made no mistake, his eighth La Liga goal drawing him level with Messi.

It was his last meaningful contribution as he made way for Sergi Roberto. Another promising La Masia youngster, Adama Traore, took Neymar's position to make his debut.

Pedro's seventh of the season on 89 minutes put some gloss on an otherwise forgettable team performance, however Martino, via fcbarcelona.com, saw the game differently:

We controlled the pace of the game, knowing when we had to play more directly and when we had to slow the match down.

This side know how to play in different ways when they need to. We have a commitment to play attractive football and I think the fans enjoyed themselves today.

A 4-0 scoreline would lead you to believe that the Barca manager is correct in his assertion, but 19 fouls from the home side is a far more indicative statistic of the sort of Barca we saw today.

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