Xavi lifts Barcelona past Granada
LA LIGA RESULTS
|Saturday, September 22|
|Sunday, September 23|
|More: La Liga| Standings|Stats|
Xavi Hernandez scored three minutes from time to seal Barcelona's hard-fought 2-0 home win over Granada on Saturday, keeping the Spanish leaders perfect through five rounds and opening up a provisional 11-point gap over defending champion Real Madrid.
The Catalan giants had looked to be on the verge of dropping their first points under new coach Tito Vilanova as the visitors defended resolutely - and themselves looked dangerous on the counter-attack.
But Xavi, a 53rd-minute replacement for Thiago Alcantara, finally broke the deadlock with a sublime goal three minutes from time, latching onto the ball on the edge of the box and bending a brilliant shot with the outside of his right foot into the top-left corner via the bar.
It was tough on Granada, whose goalkeeper Tono had been in inspired form throughout, and their dismay was complete in stoppage time when Borja Gomez put through his own net from Lionel Messi's cross.
Barca were without injured defenders Gerard Pique (foot), Carles Puyol (knee) and midfielder Andres Iniesta (thigh) through injury, but Spain striker David Villa made his first start in La Liga for almost 10 months after breaking his shinbone at last year's Club World Cup.
Granada made the daunting trip to Catalonia 18th in the table, without a win this season and missing six first-team players through injury or suspension.
The hosts had the bulk of the possession but struggled to break down a well-organized Granada defense.
Dani Alves' ball over the top found Messi, who timed his run to perfection only for Guilherme Siqueira to deflect his shot away for a corner.
Cesc Fabregas must have thought he had scored for Barca for the first time since February when he unleashed a sweet left-footed shot in the 23rd minute, but Tono got down well to make the save with his left arm with Messi ready to pounce.
Siqueira almost stunned the majority inside the Nou Camp on the half-hour mark when he found a way through on the left and got his shot away with Alexis Sanchez chasing back, but Victor Valdes superbly tipped his fierce angled effort away for a corner.
Messi's influence was growing as the half wore on, but Granada were keeping a close eye on the in-form Argentina forward. Twice he burst into dangerous positions and within firing distance of Tono's goal, but on both occasions Granada captain Inigo Lopez got his body in the way.
The Ballon d'Or winner turned provider with a neat ball for Thiago two minutes before the break, but he too was thwarted by the visitors' defense.
Villa almost opened the scoring four minutes after the interval from Adriano's cross but Tono made a decent save, and Alexis blasted a snap-shot well over the bar four minutes later as Barca's frustrations continued in the early stages of the second half.
Adriano's ball in from the left in the 65th minute looked inch-perfect for Messi, but superb last-ditch defending from Siqueira ensured the only damage was a corner.
Moments later Alves' brilliant slide-rule ball put Messi through on Tono once more, but the goalkeeper dived to his right to keep out the South American's placed left-footed attempt.
Fabregas again went close in the 77th minute after the ball broke to him 12 yards out, Tono this time diving to his left to tip away for a corner, and then Xavi too looked like he had put Barca ahead but once more Tono got down well.
The game could have gone either way in the 84th minute but both goalkeepers stood firm. First Granada substitute Youssef El Arabi found himself through on Valdes and then Messi's scrambled effort was kept out by Tono.
However, the deadlock was finally broken in the 87th minute - and in some style - by Xavi.
Alexis unselfishly set up Pedro in the 89th minute, but the substitute dinked his effort harmlessly over the bar, and then Messi hit outside of the left post as Granada's heads dropped.
There was still time for another goal, though, as Gomez inadvertently got on the end of Messi's cross with Alexis lurking.