Messi was far from his best on Sunday, yet still proved the difference maker as Barcelona maintained their surely inexorable surge to reclaiming the Liga title. Granada deserve much credit for their performance and when Odion Ighlo put them in front in the first-half it appeared that they might repeat their 1-0 victory over Real Madrid just two weeks ago.
But while Barcelona failed to make the most of their opportunities, with Alexis Sanchez having another evening to forget, Messi scored a simple tap in before grabbing the winner with a well-placed free-kick.
With the first-leg of their Champions League tie with Milan on Wednesday firmly in mind, Andres Iniesta and Carlos Puyol began on the bench, while Xavi and David Villa were out injured.
Though from free-flowing, Barcelona still created chances in the early going. Thiago put a header over the bar from a standing position in the middle of the box and Alexis Sanchez was twice unable to make the most of opportunities when he appeared to be through on goal.
Barcelona lacked an element of control, though, and Granada were offering plenty going forward when they got hold of the ball. The home side had already given Barcelona fair warning of their threat form crosses when the impressive Ighalo crossed to the back post from the right and Nolito should have done better with a volley that he could only side-foot tamely for Victor Valdes to claim.
In the 26th minute, it was an almost an exact replica that saw Lucas Alcaraz’s in-form side go in front. Again a cross came in from the right and this time, from a tighter angle, Nolito helped the ball back across the face of goal where Ighalo was on hand to convert from close range. The Nigerian was perhaps just in an onside position before striking his third goal of the season.
Barcelona came close to a response before the break. First Adriano’s fine strike from the corner of the box just missed the far angle of post and bar and then Messi uncharacteristically failed to make good contact with the ball when face to face with the goalkeeper after Thiago’s neat flick.
As the Liga leaders stepped up the intensity at the start of the second period, there was little surprise when they pulled level five minutes after the interval. Granada goalkeeper Tono will be disappointed that he couldn’t hold onto Fabregas’s drive from 25 yards and he was punished to the full as Messi steamed into to convert the rebound.
From there it was largely one-way traffic as Barcelona pushed in search of a winner.
Pedro came agonizingly close when his sweetly struck low shot from 25 yards beat Tono but came back off the post.
And, while Granada got the benefit of the doubt with the offside flag in the first half, Barcelona had no such luck in the second as Pedro stroked home from Dani Alves’s low cross when he appeared to be level with the ball.
It was not to be decisive, though, as that man Messi came to the fore once more.
Granada must have been fearing the worst when they conceded the free-kick in a perfect central position, 25 yards from goal, and sure enough Messi stepped up to the ball and curled it over the wall and past Tono, who, despite getting a hand to the shot, couldn’t keep it out.
Already with an incredible 37 league goals this season, Messi may have got yet another hat-trick had it not been for substitute Cristian Tello twice failing to find him in the middle, while Tono also saved well from the Argentinian in the dying seconds.
To their credit, Granada far from laid down after falling behind and could have grabbed an equalizer but for Inigo Lopez’s poor header at the back post and a wonderful save from Victor Valdes to deny Yacine Brahimi at the near post.