In what is an important week for Barcelona, the Catalan side is taking things game by game. El Clasico against Real Madrid is looming around the corner. But first, there is a Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Having won their first two games against Royal Antwerp and Porto, respectively, Barcelona have an opportunity to all but cement their place in the knockout phase. With that in mind, their focus is solely on the Ukrainian side.
“For us it is a vital game and really important in terms of getting out the group,” Xavi Hernandez said in his pre-game press conference. “The three points tomorrow against Shakhtar are key for out objective.”
No one at Barcelona need to be reminded they’ve been knocked out of the group phase of the Champions League in each of the last two seasons. Reaching the knockout phase is important in a sporting sense and, perhaps more importantly, in an economic one.
“This is the Champions League, the biggest competition there is for clubs and for us getting nine points from nine is very important,” Xavi said. “I don’t need to take anyone’s mind off Saturday’s game against Real Madrid because the Champions League makes you focused and switched on.”
On paper, the tie looks like a mismatch with Barcelona the heavy favorites. However, Barcelona are missing a handful of first team players. Despite some early optimism, none of Pedri, Raphinha, Frenkie de Jong or Robert Lewandowski have recovered in time to make the squad list. Gavi is suspended meaning Xavi is going to have some adjustments in an already thin side.
No one is going to feel sorry for Barcelona and they know that. Everyone knows the importance of getting a win over Shakhtar.
“You can’t focus on games that are still in the future, only on the next one,” Ferran Torres said. “We need to work for the three points tomorrow to get us closer to qualification in the Champions League.”
Ferran Torres is likely to start tomorrow. While he’s cooled down from what was a hot start to the season, he did score the only goal in their win over Porto in the last matchday.
Barcelona will reunite with a familiar face in Dmytro Chigrinsky. He spent a season during Pep Guardiola’s tenure though he was unable to adapt and lasted just that one season.
Shakhtar Donetsk is dealing with a difficult situation given what is happening in the Ukraine. With that being said, Xavi isn’t underestimating them.
“We are focused on tomorrow’s game because it will not be easy,” Xavi said. “Shakhtar are a dynamic side, strong and I think they can cause us problems. We can’t lose our focus.”