Camp Nou, Barcelona
07 April, 2011; 12:15 am, IST
The Catalan Giants drew the Ukrainian heavyweights in the quarter finals of the UEFA Champions League. This is the only match in this round in which two domestic champions clash against each other and a closely contested match is definitely on the cards. On pen and paper, FC Barcelona, at Camp Nou, start as favourites. However, football isn’t played with pen and paper and Rubin Kazan in 2009 and Hercules in 2010 have already proved it. By no figment of imagination are the Ukrainians pushovers. On the contrary, Barcelona will have to be extremely cautious against Shakhtar, especially keeping in mind their exploits against Arsenal (at home) and Roma (home and away).
The last time these two teams met was back in 2009 in the UEFA Super Cup. Barcelona had just won a treble and Shakhtar were the UEFA Cup (now Europa League) winners. Josep Guardiola’s side found it extremely difficult to rip open an extremely resilient Shakhtar defense. Guardiola’s all-conquering attack, sans Samuel Eto’o, looked hapless and Shakhtar took the game into extra time. Young Pedro moved brilliantly and exchanged passes with Leo Messi and slotted home the only goal of the match. A team, which scored more than hundred goals and had one of the best seasons in their history, were stopped by the Ukrainians. They can never be taken lightly.
Team News And Tactical Brief
Barcelona now sit at the top of La Liga and have their nearest rivals 8 points behind them. Mathematically, it is still possible for Real Madrid to win the La Liga, but it is apparent from the body-language of their ever-enthusiastic manager Jose Mourinho, that they have already given up. Guardiola will definitely not take Shakhtar lightly because he knows that Barcelona still haven’t won anything. With Barcelona’s relatively small squad, getting even smaller because of injuries and suspensions, Guardiola will have to have the best men starting for the Catalans.
Barcelona will be without two of their best defenders – Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal. The former had a knee injury and has been out for quite some time now. Eric, however, underwent a surgery to remove liver tumor and is yet to recover entirely. Defense has been a little problematic for Barcelona, but Pique’s return will give them a breather. Guardiola has to decide whether to field Sergio Busquets, who scored an own-goal against Arsenal, or to go with Milito, who hasn’t been that convincing, to partner Pique. Pedro and Maxwell too were injured, but they have joined the team and have trained with the rest and are most likely to make it. “You always get a bit worried when you aren’t scoring but you have to stay calm”, said David Villa, who looks to break his goal-drought against Shakhtar. Keeping in mind that Barcelona are yet to win an away tie under the mentorship of Guardiola, this match will be of paramount importance for the Catalans. However, at the same time a loss against the visitors, back in 2008 at the Camp Nou itself too will echo in the ears of the Camp Nou faithful.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Valdes, Alves, Pique, Busquets, Adriano, Xavi, Mascherano, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Villa.
Mircea Lucescu’s side has drawn one of the toughest oppositions in Europe. However, the Romanian will definitely have a plan for Guardiola’s men. Ahead of this electric clash, the availability of former Arsenal striker, Eduardo, comes as welcome news to the manager and the team. Last Friday, Shakhtar beat Mariupol 3-1 and went 12 points clear of Dynamo Kiev at the top of the Ukrainian league table and Lucescu rested Eduardo, to give him more time to get fit for the match against Barca and it seems that his decision has paid off. The Romanian has already made history by taking Shakhtar into the last 8 for the first time in their history.
The Ukrainian side overpowered Arsenal at home and also whitewashed AS Roma, both home and away. Their emphatic display of football bears testimony to the fact that they will take the pitch on Wednesday to play the way they do – attack. Luiz Adriano, with 4 goals in Champions League this season, will definitely not allow Barcelona defense to be off guard. The return of Jesus Christ lookalike, Dmytro Chygrynskiy, is also a significant episode. Apart from the €10 million loss, Chygrynskiy doesn’t evoke any other memories. Goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov has been in exceptional form for the visitors this season. Along with Chygrynskiy, Yaroslav Rakytsky in the centre and Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat, as fullbacks, Shakhtar has a formidable defense. With Tomas Hubschman as the defensive midfielder, the agile Willian da Silva and Douglas Costa will be marshalling the wings. On paper, Shakhtar is a very strong team.
Possible Starting XI (4-1-3-2): Pyatov, Srna, Chygrynskiy, Rakytsky, Rat, Hubschman, Willian, Douglas Costa, Mkhitaryan, Eduardo, Adriano.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Andres Iniesta (FC Barcelona)
In the wake of Lionel Messi’s lack of form and David Villa’s goal drought, Andres Iniesta is surely the man to watch out for. Blessed with immaculate ball control and deft touches, Iniesta has also been blessed with Valeria, his first child. Known as a great footballer and a greater human being, Iniesta will surely want to make this match the one to cherish.
FC Barcelona 3-1 Shakhtar Donetsk
The point to be noted here is that Barcelona play at their own backyard. Camp Nou, with 98000 Catalans off the pitch and 11 on it, is definitely an intimidating place. Shakhtar are playing in the quarter-finals for the first time and chances are high that they might just succumb to the pressure. However, Barcelona’s makeshift defense might just concede, thereby giving the visitors some hope for the return leg.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST
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