Shakhtar Donetsk players were celebrating in disbelief. The Barcelona manager wore a blank stare.
Xavi looks at the general direction of the players, hands on hips, eyes on the ground, and looks like they don’t dare to look up at the Barca fans in the stands.
Barcelona had a mission in Hamburg: to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League after two successive eliminations from the group stage. They still have time to do so, but with two games remaining on Tuesday night, they have failed to secure a potential draw.
There was no thought in the attack, no movement, no pressure, no intensity and worst of all, little real purpose. Rather, it was anxiety.
Bayern Munich have been Barca’s tormentors in Europe over the past two seasons. In the year They split in December 2021 after a 3-0 defeat in Munich. In the year A 3-0 defeat at home in October 2022 ended their hopes.
They had an excuse then: the team was not having the best season in history and the draw pitted them against difficult teams in the group stage. But a source of concern still goes back – their drama could follow a gradual and gradual Champions League collapse.
In the 2016-17 season, Barca lost to Juventus in the quarter-finals after a stunning comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16. After beating Roma 4-1 in their quarter-final first leg at the Camp Nou in 2017-18, they went on to miss their last four games in an embarrassing second leg in Italy.
In 2018-19, there was another failure, in the semi-finals against Liverpool. In the year In 2019–20, they were beaten 8–2 by Bayern in the quarter-finals at the same time during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Barca’s three Champions League titles between 2009 and 2015 are now memories of a golden era for the European club. That seems so far away now.
In the final 10 minutes, Shakhtar worked well to take a 1-0 first-half goal as Barca looked to make up for what they failed to do in the previous 80 minutes of their meeting in northern Germany on Tuesday night. The Ukrainian champions have been playing their ‘home’ European matches this season due to the war in their country.
The strikers were especially exposed. Barca were just one shot off target in the 61st minute when Gavi headed in the target.
Robert Lewandowski has not scored a single goal. He also failed to manage one against Real Sociedad on Saturday. The Polish international has now gone six games without scoring, his longest goal drought since December 2010 when he played for Borussia Dortmund.
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Ferran Torres missed the target twice and looked rushed all night. He seems more focused on trying to shine for himself than thinking about helping a teammate or helping to create play by putting Shakhtar on the wing. He had a chance to prove himself and he didn’t take it. Ruffinham were no better, with two more shots off target.
With such an important goal within reach – Xavi has repeatedly said that European development is his priority this season – the most worrying aspect was the team’s attitude, especially in the first half of the game, which tended to take success for granted.
Torres and Rafinha were separated by Xavi with half an hour left to turn the tide of the game. Lamine Yamal, Alejandro Balde, Pedri and Joao Felix have arrived. Pedrey, fresh from injury, was clean but none of them made the desired impact.
Shakhtar gave Barca problems in the second half of their first meeting at Montjuic. And despite traveling 12 hours to Hamburg for this match, the Ukrainians improved their game and were victorious.
Despite all this, Barça remain the leaders of the division. They have three wins from their first three games, although the only convincing one came in the opening match against Antwerp (5-0). They were lucky to win 1-0 at Porto, but were made to suffer at home by Shakhtar 2-1.
Also on Saturday, in LaLiga Real Sociedad, they played badly but won; It’s a formula that doesn’t last long.
How this defeat at Shakhtar will be remembered will depend on what comes next and how the team reacts. Barca travel to Porto on November 28 and away to Antwerp on December 13. The odds are still in their favor – a home win in Porto will see them through to the play-offs.
It is a real risk if Barca fail to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League for the third consecutive season, especially from this group. Even now, as unlikely as that may seem, on Tuesday, we saw again a stage that had badly hurt his side in Europe’s elite competition, with hopes of relief rising.
(Top photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)