If Barcelona dominated Shakhtar Donetsk and deservingly took home three points last month, last night’s return fixture was just the opposite.
The 1-0 defeat is kind on the Catalans, for it could well have been worse. Barcelona were outplayed for 90 minutes, and the hosts deserved every part of the three points they were rewarded with.
The only goal on the night came off the head of Danylo Sikan in the 40th minute as he expertly directed the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s reach. Barça never managed to mount a reaction, and while they did somehow pull off a miraculous save at the weekend, every day is not Sunday.
Barça Universal brings you three talking points from Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 Barcelona.
Hit rock bottom
Speaking to the media after the defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk last night, Xavi Hernandez admitted that it was the team’s ‘worst performance since he took charge two years ago’.
The manager’s words are no exaggeration, but in fact, an apt representation of the situation. It is unbelievable how a unit’s quality can drop so drastically in a matter of two games, yet Barcelona appear to have hit rock bottom on all fronts.
The defeat to Real Madrid had many positives to take away. It was a difficult pill to swallow indeed, yet it was clear that Barcelona were the better side for most of the game. The Blaugranas’ mental block, seemingly, began from that evening.
Against Real Sociedad, the men in garnet-and-blue dished out a disastrous performance, yet took away three points courtesy of a late Ronald Araujo header. Tuesday’s performance was equally, if not poorer, than the weekend.
Barcelona appeared clueless on the ball, lacked cohesion, misplayed simple passes, and failed to create any tangible threat. Apart from the woeful sporting display, they looked defeated from the very start and are clearly not in a good mental space.
Xavi has serious issues to address, and fast. The defeat to Shakhtar may pass without repercussions, but any further defeats in the UCL will bring back the ghosts of last season. Moreover, they cannot afford to drop any points in La Liga either.
A golden chance spilt
The equation was simple heading into the game at Volkparkstadion. Barcelona, on nine points, had a sizeable gap over the remaining teams in the group. A draw, or a win in Hamburg would guarantee them qualification to the Round of 16 and put them in pole position to top the table.
The game which unfolded, thus, came as a shocker to fans across the globe. Having been eliminated from the group stages for two successive seasons, one would expect Barcelona to pounce on the golden chance but they let it slip from their hands.
The defeated Spanish champions are no longer at the sole leaders of Group H, for Porto took all three points against Royal Antwerp to jump to nine points.
Needless to say, the situation is now getting unnecessarily complicated. Shakhtar Donetsk are back in contention for a knockout spot, and could even leapfrog Barcelona if the Catalans lose to Porto in the next match day.
Moreover, Barça themselves are now in a must-win situation over Porto if they wish to qualify as table-toppers.
The bright spots
Barcelona’s performance at Hamburg last night was as hopeless as it gets. Yet, there was a silver lining of sorts if one considered the individual performances of certain players.
Joao Cancelo, for starters, was sublime for the Blaugranas at right-back. He completed 91% of his passes in 90 minutes and provided two key passes against the Ukrainians. Moreover, he completed three out of three attempted dribbles and dominated the right flank.
Defensively, Cancelo was equally as solid. He made one clearance, two interceptions, five tackles, and won ten duels on the night.
The second player who shone through Barcelona’s adversity was Ilkay Gundogan. The German was ironically in a homely setting, playing in Hamburg, and he dished out a clinic.
Gundogan ran Barcelona’s midfield, completing a staggering 95% of his passes. He made one key pass and completed six out of seven attempted long balls against Shakhtar Donetsk.
His statistics only get more impressive. One shot blocked, three successful dribbles, and nine defensive actions for a team in jeopardy can only be a mark of his greatness and consistency.
One is thus forced to ponder on a certain observation. Both of the players who upped their game under pressure for the Catalans last night signed for Barcelona last summer leaving Manchester City.
It is not surprising considering their mental fortitude and ability to play well even when everything around them is collapsing, having been a part of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Man City team.
What makes the difference between the elite mentality of champions and that of the Azulgrana dressing room? Was Gundogan right about the lack of anger and emotion in the players? Xavi has a lot of questions to answer.