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FC Barcelona went into this game knowing that the Champions League job was already half done, but while a point in Hamburg would have secured mathematical passage into the last sixteen, a 1-0 defeat means there is still work to be done and one less game in which to do it.
Given their strong position in the Group H table, there is no major cause for alarm, but any defeat is a disappointment, especially given the somewhat uninspiring way in which it happened.
Attack but little danger
Although Barça had 13 shots, only one of them was on target, and although Shakhtar keeper Dmytro Riznyk was kept busy, he was never really put to any serious test.
Barça are, at least on paper, the superior footballing side, and that was made evident throughout the 90 minutes of a cold night in northern Germany, but their qualities were countered by the greater intensity from a Ukrainian side that was fighting to keep their last sixteen hopes alive.
Barça were creating chances, especially early on, but it was all rather predictable and the Shakhtar defence was having little difficulty keeping the trouble at bay. And as the game progressed, it was often Barça’s own back four who were being kept most on their toes by regular orange-shirted onslaughts on their area.
Sikan puts Shakhtar ahead
Joao Cantelo and Ronald Araujo both made particularly important interventions at the back, and Ter Stegen did well to keep Matviyenko from scoring. But the German keeper could find no answer when Gocholeishvili flipped a fine cross over to Danylo Sikan, and the latter’s lofted header found the exact trajectory that Ter Stegen couldn’t reach.
Barça didn’t particularly deserve to be trailing, but they didn’t particularly deserve to be winning either.
And as the game progressed, Ter Stegen continued to be the busier of the two keepers. Xavi clearly didn’t like what he was seeing, making the unusual decision to send on four substitutes at the same time.
The effect seemed to be a lot more football in and around the Shakhtar area, although this was also because the Ukrainians were naturally more concerned about defending their lead than taking unnecessary risk
Half chances there were aplenty, but the big ones just weren’t coming. Shakhtar, it has to said, defend very well.
As Barça pressed in search of the goal that would ensure mathematical qualification for the next round, there was always the danger of getting caught on the counter attack. And it did happen once, but Newerton was caught offside.
Rather like against Real Sociedad at the weekend, the most intense moments came in the final minutes, when the moods got feisty, Barça had three different penalty calls rejected, and a late equaliser looked very much on the cards.
It didn’t come. Defeat for Barça tonight, but there are two more games to go, Porto at home and Antwerp away, and more than enough points up for grabs for Barça to settle their place in the knockout stage once and for all.
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