Granada CF manager Diego Martinez chose his words carefully before their clash with Barcelona on September 21. Despite racking up seven points from their opening four La Liga games, Martinez was not about to sell himself short, as the champions headed to Andalucia.
He spoke of the clubs existing in ‘different universes’ in more than a nod to the £229M and £6M spent by the two clubs on respective summer transfers.
However, he refused to underpin the tired rhetoric of newly promoted sides looking for a David v Goliath angle, by shocking his press conference and confirming his side would be going all out to win against La Blaugrana.
Despite not being at the same level as their all-conquering 2008-11 side, Barcelona are still one of the most daunting in European football, but Martinez refused to be cowed. Belief, he said, would be the key component in beating Ernesto Valverde’s side. His belief in the players. Their belief in themselves. And crucially a belief in the vision that they can beat anyone.
Ramon Azeez’s goal inside the first sixty seconds set the stage for a dominant Granada performance and a 2-0 victory at Nuevo Estadio de Los Carmenes – their biggest win for five years.
Martinez remained focused after the game, refusing to get lost in a fairy tale, praising his side but reminding them of an early start for training the next day. Man of the match Azeez, whose only previous La Liga experience ended with relegation at Almeria in 2016, echoed his manager’s message.
"The recipe for beating Barcelona? Simple. We believed in ourselves and in the manager’s visualisation of how we could do it.
If we can continue on this path, the season can be anything we want.
However, as the old cliché goes, belief only gets you so far, but in Martinez, Granada have a confident character with the footballing nous to back it up.
Belief is inspiring Granada so far this season, and they will need it again this weekend as they go to leaders Real Madrid.
Martinez’s side are unbeaten in their last five games as they head to the Santiago Bernabeu, in second place, by just a point. The win against Barcelona expelled any potential for nerves in the Granada squad, and Martinez will be confident his methods will be enough once again.
Seven of his players have played in all of their games this season, and there will be no special arrangements made for Gareth Bale and co. He has kept faith with the bulk of the side that secured promotion from the Segunda last season, with Germán Sanchez, Carlos Neva and captain Victor Diaz all set to line up in defence, in front of goalkeeper Rui Silva.
Antonio Puertas and Angel Montoro will anchor the midfield, allowing Yangel Herrera to go and influence games from central midfield. Herrera is one of Manchester City’s perpetual loanees, and has been excellent for Martinez’s side, with energy and intelligence in midfield.
Whilst Martinez will, of course, look to make life difficult for Real Madrid and call on his players to harness the Barcelona performance for inspiration, they will need an out ball. That will come from an unlikely combination, in Azeez and former Tottenham reject Roberto Soldado.
The ex-Spurs man is mocked within Premier League circles for his nightmare time in North London, but the early signs of an Indian summer at Granada look positive. Azeez provides the pace to stretch Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane – neither enjoying a stellar start to the season – with Soldado looking to play as a link-up man.
Martinez will continue his policy of ‘play the game not the opposition’, and neutrals will have an eye on the Granada No.9. Released as a youngster by Real Madrid, he has scored against them with every La Liga club he has played for in his journeyman career.
Who would back against him as Granada look to keep their dream alive?