Barcelona might have a new coach, but Lionel Messi remains their unquestionable talisman after guiding the Spanish champions to a nervy 1-0 win at home to Granada in La Liga in Quique Setien’s first game in charge.
The Argentine on Sunday struck the only goal in the 76th minute, firing into the bottom corner to complete a well-crafted move shortly after the visitors had defender German Sanchez sent off.
“Messi did what he has done his entire life,” Setien said of Barca’s all-time top-scorer, who proved the difference on a blustery evening at Camp Nou. “He has done this so many times in games like this, games when you cannot find a way through, things aren’t going for you and you are lacking inspiration, but he always conjures up something special. We made a few moves like this in the first half, but it didn’t come off, but when the ball falls to Messi you know there’s a very high chance it will go in.”
The victory took Barca back to the top of La Liga on 43 points, ahead of Real Madrid on goal-difference.
Barca, who sacked Ernesto Valverde last week despite being La Liga leaders and winning the last two titles by considerable margins, enjoyed 82 percent possession and made a staggering 1,005 passes in their first game under Setien.
The visitors came close to taking the lead when Yan Brice Eteki struck the post in a rare foray forward, but they eventually caved in after Sanchez picked up a second yellow card and was dismissed for hauling down Messi.
Messi had come closest to scoring for Barca with two powerful, yet inaccurate shots either side of halftime, but he made no mistake when Arturo Vidal dragged the ball into his path in a slick passing move engineered by substitute Riqui Puig.
Twenty-year-old Puig was given his first league appearance of the season by 61-year-old Setien.
“He did very well, he came on when we were in a good situation with an extra man and he read the game perfectly,” Setien said.
Elsewhere, RCD Mallorca crushed Valencia 4-0, Betis beat Real Sociedad 3-0, Athletic Bilbao were held 1-1 at home by RC Celta de Vigo and bottom side RCD Espanyol stunned Villarreal 2-1.
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