Before this weekend, Granada had only been top of LaLiga once before, coinciding more or less with the overthrow of Allende’s Chilean government in September 1973 by Pinochet’s cronies. The coincidence is of no relevance whatsoever, but I thought I’d drop it in anyway. It seems like a long time ago, in a season when they eventually finished in 6th place, two places above Real Madrid and two points shy of qualifying for the old UEFA Cup. It was their 6th of eight consecutive seasons in the top flight, their best run yet since their relatively late foundation in 1931, and probably their best season to date, if you ignore 1959 when they lost to Barcelona 4-1 in the Generalísimo’s Cup Final.
Taking advantage of the suspended clásico, they beat Betis 1-0 in their own particular Anadalusian derby, condemning their close neighbours to the relegation spots. Whilst the cats are away the mice will play, but if Barcelona and Madrid had drawn Granada would still have been co-leaders with the Catalans, a feat in itself. To see them sitting pretty atop of the league is a fine thing indeed, considering that they were in the second tier last season, considering that their squad is the lowest-valued in the top flight (and valued lower than five clubs in Segunda ‘A’), and their budget for the season is 35 million, the third lowest after Valladolid and Mallorca. Barcelona, now one place below them, can boast 671 million for this season – just to indicate the chasm that yawns.
I saw Granada play out a desultory 0-0 draw with Sporting de Gijon on a rainy night in October 2016, almost exactly three years ago, and it was clear from that game in which direction both sides were headed.
Granada finished at the bottom of the pile that season and Sporting third from the bottom – but Granada are back and Gijón are still middling around in Segunda A. In a week when Leicester City reminded us of their wonderfully weird Premier League title that very season of 2016 by beating Southampton 0-9 away, a little worm inside tickles your fancy for a fleeting moment and makes you wonder what it would be like if that could happen this season in LaLiga. Two seasons ago Granada were victims of a 9-1 annihilation at the Bernabéu, but this season they’ve already beaten Barcelona (2-0). They look physically powerful, and the smartest thing about them is the fact that the squad is pretty much the same that won promotion last season. Soldado (who signed this season) and Ramos up front are hard-balled veterans with the younger Carlos Fernandez bringing down the average and Darwin Machis providing the speed. Domingos Duarte looks good at the back too. The incorporations this season have proven to be smart ones, with Fede Vico looking useful in the middle with Yangel Herrera on loan from Manchester City after cutting his teeth in the top flight with Huesca last season. But it’s clearly not about individuals. Granada seem to have developed some sort of unity in a short space of time, getting their new guys to perform and wisely rewarding the block from last season to create stability.
They’re away to Getafe on Thursday night in this 3-game week in Spain, a game that will be a good test of their mentality. Getafe have a habit of annoying the best of teams, subjecting them to the dentist’s chair treatment and provoking them into altered states of behaviour which often result in their losing the plot. If they can emerge unscathed, next Sunday’s game at home to the season’s other revelation, Real Sociedad, should be very interesting indeed.
One shouldn’t get carried away, of course. Granada’s 20 points are still being viewed as half of the total they’ll need to stay up. They’ll probably consider anything else to be a bonus, but it is so nice to be able to focus on something else this weekend apart from Barcelona and Madrid. Real Sociedad won 0-1 at Celta to move into third place, and have a reasonable-looking fixture in midweek at home to Levante. Sevilla completed the foursome on 19 points by beating the aforementioned Getafe and with ten games gone things are looking good for a more balanced campaign this season. Villarreal are also lurking down there on 17 points, looking like a decent team again.
Did anybody see this Granada-fest coming? Nope. Long may it last – well, until next Sunday anyway. This column’s admiration of Granada cannot quite stretch to wishing them well against Real Sociedad, but it would be nice if the midweek results are such that the game becomes the main focus of next weekend, instead of the headlines reverting back to the usual guys.