Barcelona 5-1 Shakhtar Donetsk: Shakhtar incapable of dealing with runners from deep
Barcelona became the third side to take a massive lead into the second leg of the European Cup quarter-finals.
Pep Guardiola was still without Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal, so Sergio Busquets continued at the back. Pedro Rodriguez was only fit enough for the bench, so Andres Iniesta played in the front three, and Seydou Keita started in the middle.
Former Barcelona centre-back Dmyto Chygrynskiy was unavailable for the away side, but otherwise it was Mircea Lucescu’s expected 4-2-3-1 side.
Like in the other two high-scoring games this week, the home side got off to a tremendous start when Iniesta slotted home after two minutes to put Barcelona ahead.
Despite the eventual scoreline, the away side were an attacking force in the game, especially in the first half, and looked to have all the required characteristics to expose Barcelona at the back. First and foremost, they had pace upfront. Luiz Adriano’s lightning acceleration kept causing Busquets problems (he’d also come unstuck by Giuseppe Rossi’s speed at the weekend), and he had a golden chance early on to give Shakhtar an away goal.
Their second strategy was more intelligent – with Alves playing very high up the pitch, the Ukrainian side tried to hit direct balls into Barcelona’s right-back zone, and exploit the fact the Brazilian was frequently out of position. An early shot from a narrow angle tested Valdes, and Alves contributed to the danger down that flank by being very sloppy in possession – conceding possession on the flank unnecessarily, and then underhitting a backpass which almost put Adriano in.
Late runs prove crucial
It was Alves who got the second goal with a trademark run on the blind side of the defence to meet an Iniesta lofted ball over the top. That run has caught out many sides this season, but Shakhtar seemed to be especially prone to it – no-one tracked him whatsoever, and Alves was one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Shakhtar’s’ inability to cope with late runs continued to be a problem throughout the game – in fact, despite Barcelona scoring five goals, none of them came from the two forwards on the pitch, David Villa or Lionel Messi – or Pedro, when he came on. Keita and Xavi added goals later on from midfield, whilst Gerard Pique’s untracked run from a corner to the near post found him in acres of the space.
The goals were all preventable – but Barcelona were using their players cleverly, with the forwards dragging defenders out of position and midfielders exploiting the space.
Shakhtar tactics without the ball seemed to be to press Barcelona quickly when they played the ball in midfield, attempting to force Barcelona to play the ball backwards – at which point, Shakhtar dropped off. They played a reasonably high line but offered no pressure on the ball at points – this resulted in the Alves goal – which was suicidal.
Barcelona’s pressing was also more important than ever here, as Shakhtar tried to play on the counter. In their previous tie against Roma, Shakhar’s transitions were excellent, but here they found it difficult to get past the first press, and therefore rarely countered from defence effectively.
Messi continued to play in a deeper, classic playmaking position:
Despite having a solid ’square’ of two centre-backs and two holding midfielders, Shakhtar frequently lost tackles in key, central positions:
Barcelona usually take their corners short, but in the past couple of games have been trying to send in near post corners to Busquets, who flicks the ball on to Pique. It’s clearly a training ground move – it worked against Villarreal and nearly worked again here. Pique did get a goal, from a near post run as his marker was blocked off.
Barcelona were even more keen than usual to play square passes – a third of their attempted balls were played sideways.
What many billed as a potential banana skin turned out to be a comfortable victory for Barcelona, though they did have problems with pace in behind the defence in the first half.
The main lesson to take from this match is Barcelona’s use of midfielders making late runs – llegada. Neither of their main goal threats scored, instead they focused on creating space. It was noted in the Roma game that Shakhtar often only truly defended with six players – perhaps they needed more defensive awareness from the front four.