By Maura Gladys
Wednesday’s Champions League match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Barcelona is shaping up to be a clash of destinies. Barcelona are the heavy favorites, with the world’s best talent and biggest names filling its roster, while Shakhtar Donetsk are a meticulously crafted side with a young Brazillian offense, a strong, Eastern European defense and a creative, unique style. Barca seems to be on a collision course with the championship match, but Shakhtar could have the right combination of players at the right moment to grab some glory of their own. The odds are squarely in favor of the Blaugranes, but a few key details hint at a Shakhtar upset.
Of the seven teams that Barcelona could have drawn for the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, Shakhtar Donetsk was the one that manager Pep Guardiola claimed to want to face the least, mostly due to the idea of going into Donbass Arena for the second leg of the draw. The Pitmen have yet to lose at home this season, and Donetsk in April usually hits a balmy 40 degrees, so even if Barcelona were to get a win in the first leg of the draw, they would still have their work cut out for them in the Ukraine.
Probably the most interesting part of the match up is the clashing styles of the teams. Barcelona relies heavily on precise passing and possession, while Shakhtar uses their stubborn defense to cause turnovers and then spring the counterattack with their speedy Brazillian offense. With potentially no Carles Puyol in the match, Shakhtar might have a lane right through the heart of the defense with their counterattacks. Also, don’t be surprised if Shakhtar manager Mircea Lucescu draws up a physical game plan, not only to break up Barca’s passing game, but to get in the heads of Barca players for the return leg of the draw.
Shakhtar has the element of the underdog going in their favor. Their aspirations are high, and they do not fear Barcelona, but they’re playing with house money, so they have the luxury of throwing everything they have into this game.
They also have Fernandinho back in the squad, after a seven month layoff due to a knee injury. The Brazilian, who most likely won’t start, will add depth and stability to the already creative offense.
Also expect inspired play from Dmytro Chygrynskiy, who spent one year at the Nou Camp and was reportedly heartbroken when Pep Guardiola sent him back to Donetsk. The center back is dealing with a minor injury but he will want to show Guardiola that he has flourished at Shakhtar, and his play could be the spark that stifles Barca’s passing game.
No matter the score, this game will be a historical moment for the club and fans should appreciate it as such. Who knows how long this current squad can stay together before getting picked apart by Europe’s giants. The rumblings have started already. Douglas Costa to Manchester United. Jadson to Valencia. Fernandinho to Napoli. Willian to Chelsea. Willian to Barcelona. Willian to Liverpool. This could be one of the last times that this exciting, inspiring combination of players combines to produce the brand of smart, creative soccer that has earned them the rest of Europe’s attention.
Prediction: Barcelona will score on Wednesday. That is a fact. They’ve only been shutout once at home this season in a total of 21 home matches, and even though skipper Darijo Srna commands a very good defense, it’s safe to concede at least one goal for Barca at home. Also, don’t expect a lot of complacency from the Spanish giants. Guardiola has been making sure they aren’t overlooking Shakhtar in anticipation of Real Madrid in the semifinals. I predict a 2-0 Barca win on Wednesday, enough to put Barca at a distinct advantage going into Donbass Arena, and creating a tough, but not impossible scenario for the Pitmen.