FC Barcelona (1st, 6pts) vs Shakhtar Donetsk (3rd, 3pts)
Competition/Round: 2023-24 Champions League, Group H, Matchday 3
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Gavi, Robert Lewandowski, Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Sergi Roberto (out)
Shakhtar Outs & Doubts: Mykola Matviyenko (doubt)
Date/Time: Wednesday, October 25, 2023, 6.45pm CET (Barcelona), 5.45pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 12.45pm ET, 9.45am PT (USA), 10.15pm IST (India)
Venue: Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, Montjuïc, Barcelona, Catalona, Spain
Referee: Ivan Kružliak (SVK)
VAR: Tomasz Kwiatkowski (POL)
How to watch on TV: TUDN (USA), TNT Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), SONY TEN 2 (India), Movistar Liga de Campeones (Spain), others
Following a dramatic, crucial late victory against Athletic Bilbao to get closer to the top of the La Liga table, Barcelona return to European action for their third Champions League group stage game as they welcome Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk to the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Wednesday evening’s early kickoff.
Barça come into this one still unbeaten in all competitions three months into the season, an underrated achievement for Xavi Hernández and his troops considering the tough schedule they’ve faced and the almost unbelievable injury crisis they’ve had to deal with since the very beginning of the campaign.
The quality of the football despite the tough circumstances has been even more impressive than the results themselves, which provides a lot of encouragement as Barça look to compete in all fronts this term. Saturday’s El Clásico will be the biggest test of the season so far and will give us a good idea about the team’s chances of winning the league, but a deep European run remains the biggest priority for the club in 2023-24.
Advancing to the Round of 16 is the first step in their quest for a strong Champions League campaign, and three points against Shakhtar will pretty much guarantee a spot in the knockout rounds as it’ll leave Barça just one point away from mathematical qualification with three games still remaining.
Xavi made it clear in his pre-match press conference that he’s taking this one very seriously, and he won’t hesitate in using the best available players to ensure his team has the best possible chance to win. He will of course be smart in managing the minutes with El Clásico in mind, but anyone expecting a team full of kids will be surprised by the starting lineup.
This isn’t the same Shakhtar team that was a brutal opponent in Europe in the past thanks in large part to losing a lot of talent due to the external circumstances in Ukraine, but those who’ve stayed are part of a tough, well-organized team that can also play if given the chance.
They will be physical and defensive and will hope for chances on the counter and set pieces, but there’s no doubt Shakhtar will be more than happy with a draw and won’t take unnecessary risks like Royal Antwerp did when they lost 5-0 to Barça at Montjuïc with a surprisingly bold approach.
Barça must be ready to attack a low block and will need patience and creativity to find good opportunities, and must be clinical to convert their chances and earn the victory. They are favorites but it doesn’t mean it’ll be a walk in the park, and the Blaugrana can’t be looking ahead to Saturday if they want to win this one.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Araujo, Christensen, Alonso; Fermín, Romeu, Gündogan; Yamal, Ferran, Félix
Shakhtar (4-3-3): Riznyk; Konoplia, Bondar, Matviyenko, Azarov; Bondarenko, Stepanenko, Sudakov; Zubkov, Sikan, Newerton
This isn’t the same Shakhtar of the past, but they are still a solid team that can cause problems if Barça take them for granted. But I expect the Blaugrana to understand the importance of a good performance and the victory and to play seriously from the get-go to earn all three points: 2-0 to the good guys.