CL Preview: Barcelona – Shakhtar Donetsk, Wednesday, 2:45pm, Fox Soccer Plus (HD)
They’re weak. They’re strong. They’re wookiees. It doesn’t much matter how you approach Shakhtar because they remain an enigma. Yeah, they lost 5-1 at the Emirates (where Barcelona also lost, if you’ve forgotten), but they also beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Donbass. And they beat Roma 2-3 at the Stadio Olimpico and then crushed them 3-0 back in Donetsk. Weak? Hardly. Full of wookiees? Definitely.
With Guardiola kinda freaking out about this match, I think it’s time I enter into full blown Holy bologna, Batman mode. But I’m too worried. We’ve got injuries, we’ve got a weak defense, we’ve got problems. And did I mention they’re giant, hairy beasts from outer space? They’re like 8-feet tall, even the Brazilians. They have giant fangs! They’re not just bunnies! They’re horrible killing machines come to gain some sort of revenge for the UEFA Super Cup. And I, for one, am slightly terrified.
I had a conversation in the bar this weekend with a few fellow Barça supporters and one of them espoused the idea that Chygrynskiy is nothing to worry about because he didn’t “make” it at FCB. Only he kind of did, if the reports suggesting Guardiola wanted to keep him are real. But does it even matter? Even if he wasn’t improving throughout the year and gaining in confidence and working on his Catalan, does that make him not dangerous? He’s the Ukrainian Bill Brasky! He’s a 2 ton man mountain who can palm a medicine ball. And he rides motorcycles cause he’s too badass for cars even though professional sports contracts almost always exclude such activities. Chewie is all sorts of not giving a crap.
I think, in the end, I’m more worried about thinking ahead to the (now confirmed) specter of Real Madrid in the semifinals. Thanks a lot, Spurs, you little [edited for content; seriously, I didn’t even know that was physically possible. -ed], way to put that tie to bed early. The match itself with Shakhtar is somewhat secondary to my thinking that Barça supporters are often forgetful of our away form in the CL and disdainful of opponents who deserve our respect.
This match is a must-win. We will not win in the Ukraine. That much is a given. If you think we’ll somehow be the first team to defeat Shakhtar at their house ever, your rocker is off it’s rocker. They’ve never not won in the Donbass. How insane is that? In their last 8 home games they’re 8-0-0 (19GF, 2GA) and never more than one goal allowed. Just twice they’ve managed only 1 goal at home too. They’re not particularly worse away: 8-0-1 (18GF, 5GA) in their last 9. [Please note that these stats are taken from here and I’m not connected to the internet so I can’t totally check these, but they’re guides not specifics anyway].
Kari has profiled several of their players and tactics and I don’t disagree with her assessments, though I do think Barça will “imponer su ley”—that is, will wrest control of the match and Shakhtar will sit very deep at the Camp Nou and look for a 0-0 draw. That said, they’ll break on us like water balloon in a nail shop and with Srna, Willian, Jadson, and Luiz Adriano, there’s a lot pace on the field. Can those 3 Brazilians play spectacular defense, though, is the real question. If Messi is 100% (which I kind of doubt) or if Pedro (who is back!) is capable of putting in 60-75 minutes we have a chance to take advantage of their willingness to counter, but only if our centerbacks are imperious. And yes, that means Busi being tremendous.
There is no polite way to put this: against Villarreal, Busi and Pique were collectively less valuable than a pile of Zimbabwean dollars in a bonfire. Sure, Pique won us the game off a Busi flick, but barf on a stick in mud did we deserve to get scored on. Molt gracies, Valdes, in case you didn’t know we were grateful for the 8 point lead. Obviously not all that fault should be placed on Sergio and Gerrard, but I am definitely singling them out for their lack of pace, inability to read the coming attacks from deep, and for Messi’s sake, Pique, please stop sticking your foot out to ward off a pass when you could just turn into it and jet it out of danger. You whiff entirely too often.
Frothing at the mouth would probably help. Let’s do that. But will it be enough? Letting out the beast within only goes so far. We can only have brain aneurysms so many times in a year. So, ladies and gentlemen, given that our enemies are wookiees, our only sure hope, is obviously the Chewbacca defense. If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must beat Shakhtar. I rest my case.
[In case you missed it, I added a link I forgot to the bunny mention above (here) and time time (Wednesday, 2:45pm) and channel in the US (Fox Soccer Plus).]