Barcelona remain unbeaten this season and have taken a big step towards a spot in the Champions League knockout rounds thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over Shakhtar Donetsk at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Wednesday evening. The Blaugrana dominated the first half and should have easily sealed the victory, but missed some key opportunities and allowed the visitors to get back in the game in the final period. The Blaugrana had to suffer in the end but found a way to secure the win at home, and are now just one point away from mathematical qualification with three games remaining in the group.
Shakhtar had a very clear mission coming into the game: sit back, absorb pressure and try to survive until the second half. The Ukrainian champions offered zero threat going forward and were very sloppy with their passing at the back, and with Barça doing a great job of pressing high and winning the ball in dangerous positions the game was played almost entirely in Shakhtar’s half.
Barça were dominant and comfortable throughout the period, moving the ball with purpose through the lines and creating big chances with pinpoint passing and excellent off-ball movement. Fermín López and Ferran Torres were a terror for the Shakhtar defense as the two popped up in every imaginable spot in the final third, and with João Cancelo, João Félix and Ilkay Gündogan providing good service it was only a matter of time before the goals came.
The goals did come eventually but the Blaugrana could have been out of sight early on if not for two big misses by Fermín and Cancelo, but Ferran took responsibility and finally gave Barça the lead close to the half-hour mark after a brilliant pass by Gündogan and a shot by Fermín that hit the post and fell right into the path of Torres who smashed it home on the rebound.
Fermín was very hungry to get his first European goal on his first Champions League start, and the young midfielder finally got to realize his dream after a beautiful passing sequence through the middle and a rocket by the 20-year-old that exploded off the post and hit the back of the net to double Barça’s lead just before halftime.
At the break the Blaugrana were up two goals but deserved a lot more, and the job in the second half was to avoid a letdown to stop any attempts of a Shakhtar comeback and confirm the victory without any trouble.
Sadly Barça could not maintain the same level of concentration and intensity from the first half and allowed Shakhtar to have more of the ball and send bodies forward, and the visitors found themselves back in the game with 30 minutes to go when Georgiy Sudakov got in behind the Barça defense, received a great pass in space and beat Marc-André ter Stegen to give Shakhtar life.
Barça scored twice and could have killed off the game through Ferran and Fermín again, but both goals were disallowed for narrow offside calls and the Blaugrana went into the final 20 minutes still needing to find the net for a third time to guarantee the win. They almost got a penalty for a clear handball in the box after a free-kick from Gündogan, but an offside in the buildup denied the penalty shout.
More bad news for Barça came with 15 minutes to go when João Félix was forced off with an apparent injury, and Shakhtar looked more and more confident in their ability to get an unlikely point as we reached the deciding minutes of the contest.
Xavi Hernández made three substitutions trying to slow down Shakhtar’s momentum and regain some form of control, and young striker Marc Guiu almost added to his growing legend with another goal with his first touch but saw his shot blocked at the line after a scramble in the box. Shakhtar had missed three very good chances just before that, and the visitors continued to apply pressure looking to pull off the upset.
They couldn’t create a late chance to equalize, however, and the final whistle came to confirm the win for the home team. Barça should have won this by three or four goals at least based on how well they played and the big chances they created on the night, but the lack of precision with their finishing and some bad luck with the disallowed goals for offside made them have to work for it in the end.
You would have liked to see them not suffer but considering all the injuries it’s still a very valuable result, and Barça have all but guaranteed a place in the Round of 16 which was their priority from the moment the season started. The job is done, and El Clásico is next. A big week is almost over, and so far it’s a good one.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Araujo, Iñigo (Christensen 82’), Alonso (Balde 70’); Fermín (Casadó 82’), Romeu, Gündogan; Yamal, Ferran, Félix
Goals: Ferran (28’), Fermín (36’)
Shakhtar: Riznyk; Konoplia, Bondar, Matviyenko, Azarov; Bondarenko, Stepanenko; Zubkov, Sudakov, Kryskiv (Newerton 63’); Sikan (Kelsy 70’)
Goal: Sudakov (62’)