Barcelona failed to guarantee mathematical qualification to the Champions League knockout stages and suffered their first loss in Europe this season thanks to a 1-0 defeat away to Shakhtar Donetsk in Hamburg, Germany on Tuesday evening’s early kickoff. The Blaugrana played a pathetic match and struggled to create all night, with only one shot on target against a Shakhtar team that fought with everything they had and deservedly picked up three huge points to stay alive in Group H.
The opening period was a seriously tough watch. The intensity and desire from both teams was there, but the quality was seriously lacking thanks in part to the horrible state of the playing surface and in part to a very imprecise Barça team that had most of the possession but struggled to complete passes in the final third and couldn’t create a single meaningful chance in the entire half.
Shakhtar’s approach was less defensive than two weeks ago at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium, and the Ukrainians had the best chance of the first 40 minutes of the period when Mykola Matviyenko found himself all alone in the box and forced an excellent save out of Marc-André ter Stegen. With five minutes to go in the half they found a breakthrough: a cross from the right found Danylo Sikan in great position in the box, and the young striker headed it past Ter Stegen to give Shakhtar a deserved lead.
The halftime whistle came to end 45 of the worst minutes Barça had played all season, and the Blaugrana needed serious improvement to have a shot at a second half comeback.
Barça showed at least some improvement to start the second half, with longer sequences of possession in midfield and more bodies in and around the Shakhtar penalty area. But the Blaugrana continued to struggle with decision-making and precision in the final third, and they still hadn’t managed a shot on target at the hour mark.
Xavi Hernández had seen enough and made a rare quadruple substitution in the 60th minute, with Pedri, Alejandro Balde, João Félix and Lamine Yamal all coming off the bench at the same time looking to wake up the Barça attack and make them more dynamic and dangerous as Shakhtar began to park the bus and look to protect their valuable lead.
The substitutes made Barça a little better with their aggressive attitude and willingness to be creative, and the Blaugrana finally began offering somewhat of a threat as we entered the final 20 minutes. They still needed to score quickly to give themselves a chance to win it, but going into the last 10 minutes plus stoppage time they were yet to break down the Skahtar defense.
Fermín López came on for Gavi as Xavi made one final change looking for the touch of individual brilliance that would unlock things for the Catalans, but it never came and Barça limped to the finish without creating a real chance despite the seven minutes of added time.
The final whistle came to end a horrible night for Barça. Yes, the pitch was in truly awful condition but it is no excuse for such an anemic performance against a Shakhtar team that fought hard but wasn’t very impressive either. This was the second terrible performance in a row for a Barça team that all of a sudden forgot how to play, and the injuries are no longer excuse.
This team needs to get a lot better. Fast. This was unacceptable.
Shakhtar: Riznyk; Gocholeishvili, Bondar, Rakitskyy, Matviyenko; Kryskiv, Stepanenko (Nazaryna 73’), Sudakov; Zubkov, Sikan (Kelsy 62’), Newerton (Shved 90+8’)
Goal: Sikan (40’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Araujo, Christensen, Alonso (Balde 59’); Gavi (Fermín 81’), Romeu (Pedri 59’), Gündogan; Raphinha (Yamal 59’), Lewandowski, Ferran (Félix 59’)