After an undeserved defeat to Real Madrid, Barcelona found themselves undeserved winners against Real Sociedad this past weekend. On Tuesday night, they returned to action for the first time since the clash in the Basque country.
Pitted against Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona only needed to avoid defeat on the night to secure their qualification to the next round. With a six-point lead over the third-placed team ahead of kickoff, the ball was in their court.
On the night, Xavi Hernandez opted for rotation with good stability on paper. Marc-Andre ter Stegen started in goal with Andreas Christensen and Ronald Araujo in central defence. Joao Cancelo and Marcos Alonso were the two starting full-backs on the night.
Oriol Romeu was assisted by Ilkay Gundogan and Gavi in the middle of the park while Ferran Torres, Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski played as the forward trio.
Barcelona kicked the game off in Hamburg, hoping to replicate their performance against the same opposition last month. The opening minutes indicated nothing less, as Xavi’s men swiftly rushed into attack and generated a threat.
Lewandowski, in fact, had half a chance as early as the opening five minutes. The visitors’ purple patch did not last long. Shakhtar soon began pressing in numbers in midfield and an equal battle soon ensued.
Raphinha’s cross into the centre fell at the feet of Gundogan after a series of interceptions. The former Manchester City star had a go at goal and did not miss by much.
The hosts did not have to wait long for their first big chance. In the 15th minute, a lovely ball over the top had Shakhtar’s Mykola Matvienko in space to make a charge. While his run was good, Ter Stegen did enough to deal with the shot. Just a minute later, Raphinha also came close to scoring from long-range.
From the 20th minute, the game took a turn in the favour of the Ukrainian side. They began utilising the long ball to bypass Barcelona’s lines and found reasonable success with the strategy.
The possession soon shifted in the favour of Shakhtar as the first period approached its latter half. They had their chances to open Barcelona’s defence, with all of Georgiy Sudakov, Oleksandr Zubkov, Newerton and Danylo Sikan leading the attack.
Marino Pusic’s men eventually took the lead, and deservedly so, five minutes before the first half ended. Their move began with an outstanding pass over the top to find Giorgi Gocholeishvili on the right flank. The winger played a pin-point pass into the centre where Sikan headed into the back of Barcelona’s net with precision.
Heading into the half-time interval, Barcelona were looking uninspired and lacking creativity like they did last weekend against Real Sociedad. Shakhtar were deservingly in the lead, and the Catalan giants were under pressure to produce something special.
Barcelona stepped onto the gas after the restart, winning the ball back high and dictating the play. Torres created a good chance just two minutes into the restart. At the other end, Gocholeishvili was presented with a chance of his own.
The Azulgranas were in desperate need of inspiration, for their tactical adjustment did not change much in their attack. In fact, Shakhtar once again created a big chance just three minutes before the hour mark.
Xavi thus turned to his bench, calling on Pedri and Joao Felix for Romeu and Torres. Lamine Yamal and Alejandro Balde also replaced Raphinha and Alonso.
Six minutes after their introduction, Pedri and Yamal combined well to take down the host defence. However, the latter’s shot was tame. A minute later, they were busy scampering to deny Newerton once more.
Yamal fired a good shot in the 80th minute but could not beat Dmytro Riznyk. Fermin Lopez, meanwhile, came on for Gavi.
Barcelona appealed for a handball against Matvienko with ten minutes to go, and the incident was checked by VAR. However, no penalty was given.
With 86 minutes on the clock, Newerton smartly collected the ball down Barcelona’s right flank and eliminated Joao Cancelo to score Shakhtar’s second. However, it was ruled out for a minute offside.
Barcelona amped up the pressure in extra time, coming close to an equaliser through a scramble in the opponents’ box. The hosts, however, were smart in the way they dealt with the pressure.
There was another penalty appeal deep into stoppage time for a foul on Joao Felix, but it was not given.
The game eventually ended 1-0 in the Ukrainians’ favour, handing Barça a big blow in their bid to top Group H. All eyes now will be on Porto’s clash to see if they drop any points.