Things were in their own hands, but Barcelona slipped up at the worst possible moment. Losing to Shakhtar Donetsk in Hamburg was not on the cards, but there is nothing to complain about with regards to the Ukrainians’ victory.
Barcelona again produced a flat performance, without creating many chances, much like at San Sebastian.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen was once again his team’s best player, which tells you much of the story.
It’s not that Los Cules’ passage to the knockout round is now put in real danger, they still have it in their hands, but this defeat could hurt Barcelona in a deeper way.
Xavi’s side were playing with fire, they beat Sevilla, Porto, Athletic Club and Real Sociedad, but in the Clasico and against Shakhtar their shortcomings were exposed to an alarming degree.
Qualification was close and Xavi must have thought that the sooner the pass to the last 16 was sealed, the better. That is why he fielded a very recognizable starting XI in which the biggest shock was the presence of Marcos Alonso at left-back.
Not losing was enough to qualify, but there is also the financial bonuses that the team missed. Even if it is minimal, the club needs all the money they can get, and a victory against Shakhtar would have been a boost.
The state of the pitch at Hamburg’s Volksparkastadion, where Shakhtar play their home games, was poorly maintained, which did little to help the flow of the match.
The Ukrainians’ approach was clear: wait at the back and counter-attack quickly at the slightest opportunity. And so came the first big chance of the game when Matviyenko got in front of Ter Stegen, but the German again made one of those match-winning saves. Just like in San Sebastian last Saturday. The Blaugrana tried long-range efforts from Ilkay Gundogan and Raphinha, but without creating any real danger for the hosts.
Marino Pusic’s team came out in response with a progressive style with the ball, playing out from the back at every opportunity. At times it seemed suicidal with mistakes forcing the goalkeeper Riznyk to make several risky passes to avoid the oncoming pressure.
The game was approaching half-time and everything seemed to indicate that it would be goalless, but it was not to be. A fresh move by the home side ended with a change of play to Gocholeishvili and a measured cross from the latter that Sikan headed in with precision to make it 1-0.
Four changes at once
The second half called for a change of script to prevent Barcelona from making life difficult for themselves. But just after the restart an error of judgement between Marcos Alonso and Christensen gave Gocholeishvili the chance to make it 2-0, but Ter Stegen was there again to prevent it. There was no improvement in the Catalan side and Ter Stegen was again on hand to save from Sikan’s shot. A situation that led Xavi to make four changes with half an hour to go in search of a reaction: Pedri, Lamine Yamal, Balde and Joao Felix were all introduced.
The dominance did not translate into chances and the Ukrainians continued to be dangerous on the counter despite the fact that Sikan, a nightmare for the center-backs, was no longer on the pitch.
The goalscorer had to leave the pitch after picking up an injury after a collision with Christensen.
In the last quarter of an hour Shakhtar pulled back a little but Barcelona, passing sideways constantly, could not find any gaps. Xavi’s last resort was Fermin, decisive in the home match against the Ukrainians.
Alas, nothing came of it. It was Newerton who thought he had made it 2-0, but his goal was disallowed for offside.