MADRID (AFP) – Barcelona threw on their stars of the present and the future last Saturday night but neither Lionel Messi nor Ansu Fati could save them from a dismal 2-0 defeat away at Granada.
Messi was still not deemed fit enough to start at Los Carmenes while Fati, the 16-year-old who has lit up La Liga in recent weeks, also began the game on the bench.
But while both came on at half-time with Barca trailing to Ramon Azeez’s opener, it was Granada that scored again, Alvaro Vadillo converting a penalty after Arturo Vidal was found guilty of a handball.
Barcelona have now won only two of their opening five league games and none away from Camp Nou, this their second loss already, just one fewer than the three they suffered during the entirety of last season.
With seven points on the board, this is their worst start to a season since 1994.
“Obviously I am worried,” said coach Ernesto Valverde. “Because we are not getting good results and when that happens in two or three games, it means we are not playing well.”
Instead, Granada go top of the table after capitalising on Atletico Madrid’s goalless draw at home to Celta Vigo a few hours before.
Barcelona are sixth, grasping onto the consolation of Messi’s second substitute appearance in five days.
Their problems though are unlikely to be solved by their captain’s return.
Junior Firpo’s error two minutes into his first start for the club gifted Granada their opening goal and set the tone for a chaotic night in defence.
And up front, Antoine Griezmann was quiet again, with little in any of the combinations to suggest Ernesto Valverde has yet worked out who will form his best attacking trio and in what positions.
“In the end, the coach is responsible and I feel responsible,” Valverde said.
“I always think you can win or lose but at least you have to deserve to win when you lose, and today it hasn’t been like that.”
Firpo’s mistake came early, as he shaped to play a long ball over the top back to his goalkeeper. Instead, the lively Roberto Soldado stole possession and slipped in Antonio Puertas.
With Firpo on the floor, Gerard Pique scrambled across but Puertas’ shot only looped up off the defender to the back post where Azeez headed in.
Granada seemed hungrier than Barca and their dominance persuaded Valverde to make two changes at half-time, Messi and Fati replacing Carles Perez and Firpo.
Messi won a free-kick 30 yards out but hit it straight at the wall while Marc-Andre ter Stegen fumbled a cross and had to react quickly to claw it back off his own line.
Any hopes of a Barca comeback were dashed in the 66th minute as Vidal handballed at the end of a scramble in the box and Vadillo made no mistake with the spot-kick.