When Fermin Lopez found the net in the 36th minute with a scintillating shot into the top corner, the expectation was that Barcelona would kick on and put Shakhtar Donetsk to the sword.
While the La Liga champions squeaked out a 2-1 win to remain unbeaten in the Champions League and solidify their place for qualification, the second half was anything but a walk in the park.
Credit the Ukrainian Premier League champions for making life uncomfortable for Barcelona. When promising 21-year-old Heorhiy Sudakov pulled a goal back for the Ukrainian side, the game was thrown into the balance.
Sudakov’s finish was one of composure, more suited to a striker who’d been at the top of the game for a decade, but there’s a reason that Sudakov is being tipped to be the next star of Ukrainian football with a number of European giants reported to be tracking him. I’m sure you can add Barcelona’s name to the list following his performance last night.
But as good as the finish was, the unchecked run from midfield highlighted the weaknesses of this Barcelona team. Oriol Romeu failed to pick up the run and by the time he got going, it was too late. Inigo Martinez was never going to get over, and Barcelona was cut open like a Halloween pumpkin.
Barcelona still have considerable work to do if they hope to go deep into the Champions League
You have to put an asterisk next to all criticisms of Barcelona’s current play. The number of injuries is astounding and it hits the very heart of the team.
Jules Kounde was playing the best football of his career before suffering his injury. Frenkie de Jong is arguably the most important player on the pitch for Barca, Pedri (injured) and Xavi (suspended) aren’t too far behind and Robert Lewandowski is one of the most prolific strikers in Champions League history.
But it’s that pivot next to De Jong which could cause issues when the Dutchman returns. Oriol Romeu started well, but I think it’s time we accept the harsh reality that he’s simply not good enough anymore. If Barcelona want to go far in any competition this year, they’ll need to solve the defensive midfield issue.
Due to the limited funds, it may need to come through the loan market. But if Romeu is lining up in El Clasico, I have some severe fears for how much space Jude Bellingham will have to work with.