We eased our way into the Champions League semi-final with a 0-1 win in Donetsk tonight finishing off the job that we started so well last Wednesday. Leo Messi scored the only goal of tonight’s game bringing his Champions League tally to nine this season making a total of 48 goals in 45 games for Barça in all competitions which beats the 47 he scored last season. A truly remarkable achievement in the modern game.
Pep Guardiola showed Shakhtar every respect by playing more or less our strongest team given that Iniesta was suspended and Pedro has not started a game yet since his injury. With Bojan now out for the remainder of the season Afellay was given another chance to start up front with Messi and Villa. Ther main point of interest in our formation was seeing Mascherano in the back four alongside Piqué while Busquets played the defensive midfield role. The thinking behind this must surely be the lack of speed we have at the back, and while Masch is suspended for Saturday’s clasico I imagine Pep is thinking of starting with this back four for the Copa del Rey Final next Wednesday. Mascherano generally had a very good match but early on in the 8th minute he didn’t get close enough to Douglas Costa who made a good diagonal run to meet Jadson’s pass and Valdés had to make a good parry diving to his left.
Most of the early problems that Shakhtar gave us as they got the better of the first 20 minutes, came though Jadson and also through the attacking full-backs Kobin and Shevchuk who were replacing first choice pair Srna and Rat. In the 14th minute Shevchuk got forward and Valdés had to make another stop from Jadson’s poor finish, and then in the 24th minute the danger came from the right as Kobin crossed to Jadson whose first time shot went straight at Valdés.
However, it seems as though we were just testing the waters to see how much effort we would need to win. Gradually we began to carve out chances though most was coming from shots outside the area: Xavi and Keita both fired wide while Messi sent a powerful effort straight at Pyatov. On half an hour a nice build-up led to Afellay feeding the overlapping Adriano whose shot from an angle beat the keeper but Kobin was back to clear off the line. Messi then had a neat little run into the area but he tried to be too clever and didn’t find the height to lift the ball over Pyatov.
We were more in control now, Messi had another shot go over and Afellay sent in a stinger straight at Pyatov, then in the 43rd minute Alves got forward on the right before squaring inside to Messi who took the ball in his stride and into the area, and despite the close attention of a defender who managed to get a touch to the ball Messi followed its path as if he knew just where it was going anyway and sent a low shot past Pyatov who had no chance. Shakhtar came close to an equalizer just before half time but Valdés made a brave save crashing into a post to prevent Jadson’s free kick from curling into the top corner.
The second half was always going to be a stroll after that and we just concentrated on controlling things as Shakhtar gradually lost their fight. The best moment was a run past two from Messi which set up Afellay with a chance but Pyatov saved and Alves blasted the rebound wide. Shakhtar’s consolation might have come in the 76th minte but Valdés made a splendid save from Mkhitaryan’s drive. Guardiola was able to give a rest to Xavi, Piqué and Villa, giving a run-out to Pedro, Milito and Jeffren.
This was a fairly comfortable match and showed the developing maturity of this team, though Milito picked up a yellow card after slipping almost immediately after coming on, and Villa took a knock to his knee which needed an ice pack. He should be ok for Saturday, we are going to need as many players at their best as possible for the massive challenge ahead. More on Friday with the Madrid-Barça preview.
Shakhtar: Pyatov; Kobin, Ishchenko, Rakitskiy, Shevchuk; Hübschman (Fernandinho m75), Mkhitaryan; Douglas Costa (Eduardo m58), Jadson, Willian; Luiz Adriano (Moreno m66)
Barça: Valdés 7.5; Alves6.5, Mascherano 7.5, Piqué 7 (Milito m70, 5.5), Adriano 6; Xavi 6 (Pedro m66, 6), Busquets 6.5, Keita 6; Messi 8, Villa 5.5 (Jeffren m75, 6), Afellay 6.
Goal: m43 Messi 0-1.
Yellow cards: m56 Mkhitaryan, m60 Ishchenko, m71 Milito