GRANADA, Spain – Granada continued its surprising LaLiga start with a 2-0 win on Saturday over two-time defending champion FC Barcelona in Matchday 5 action, a victory that temporarily puts the Andalusian side at the top of the league table.
The newly promoted home team got off to a fast start at Los Carmenes stadium in this southern city when Ramon Azeez capitalized on a defensive blunder and scored from close range in the second minute.
On the play, Spanish-Dominican defender Junior spent too much time on the ball and had it stripped away by Granada striker Roberto Soldado. The ball eventually made its way to Azeez via a pass from Antonio Puertas, and the Nigerian midfielder deposited it into the net.
Granada then continued to control the action against a Barcelona squad still without the full services of Lionel Messi, who is coming back from injury and started the match on the bench.
The home squad had a chance to double their lead in the 14th minute on a shot by Puertas, but Barcelona net minder Marc-Andre ter Stegen was able to put the ball wide of the upright.
The Catalans’ best chance early on came on a free kick by striker Luis Suarez at the midway point of the first half, although the Uruguayan was unable to get it past the Granada wall.
Messi replaced winger Carles Perez at the start of the second half, but even the presence of the Argentine superstar and 16-year-old phenom Ansu Fati (who had come on for Junior after the intermission) failed to turn the tide in the visitors’ favor.
Granada nearly made the score 2-0 on a mistake in the 52nd minute by Ter Stegen, who dropped the ball near the goal line, and then finally doubled their lead on a penalty conversion by substitute Alvaro Vadillo in minute 66.
The penalty had been awarded for an Arturo Vidal hand ball, a play that was reviewed by the video assistant referee (VAR) system.
Barcelona had possession nearly 75 percent of the time and created a pair of chances late in the second half, but Vidal had a shot blocked and Granada goalie Rui Silva saved an attempt by Messi.
“(It’s a) defeat that’s worrying and that hurts. We need to look at look things closely and be hard on ourselves so we can improve,” Suarez said afterward.
With the win, Granada (10 points) is currently in first place in LaLiga, ahead of Sevilla and Atletico Madrid on goal differential.
However, that position will be short-lived because either Sevilla or Real Madrid will move past Granada depending on the result of their marquee matchup at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium in Seville on Sunday.
Athletic Bilbao also could move to 11 points with a win over Alaves on Sunday.
Barcelona, which is winless on the road through five LaLiga games, is provisionally in seventh place with seven points.
Elsewhere Saturday, Atletico Madrid turned in a spotty performance in a 0-0 home draw at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium Saturday against Celta Vigo, getting outplayed in the first half and then failing to convert their chances down the stretch.
The visitors exhibited greater teamwork and precision in the early going, with Rafinha expertly orchestrating Celta’s attack and penetrating Atleti’s defense with passes to Denis Suarez and Iago Aspas.
Even so, Celta were unable to turn that superiority into scoring chances and in fact managed only one shot on goal over the first 45 minutes – an attempt by Suarez that ended up in the arms of the Colchoneros’ net minder, Jan Oblak.
The tenor of the match changed, however, midway through the second half after Diego Simeone went to his bench and inserted Vitolo for Angel Correa and replaced Hector Herrera and Joao Felix with Thomas Partey and Alvaro Morata, respectively.
The home side sent in four crosses in the final half hour that nearly led to goals, but Atleti’s revival ultimately proved to be too little too late.
“We tried but we weren’t able to do it. I’m proud of the work we put in. We didn’t give up until the final ball. We missed out on two points, but there’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves because we have another battle on Wednesday,” Atleti defender Jose Gimenez said afterward, referring to their upcoming LaLiga Matchday 6 away contest against Mallorca.
Gimenez refused to blame Atleti’s sub-par showing on a lack of recovery time following their opening Champions League group-stage match on Wednesday against Juventus, which ended in a 2-2 draw.
“Physically, we’re prepared for the amount of games we play. Playing every three days is tiring, but physically we feel good. We have to keep working. There are positive things and we need to correct the negative things,” the Uruguayan defender said.
“We’re going to keep growing, striving to achieve more. The attitude and dedication are always there. We need to rest now, stay calm and cool-headed.”