Barcelona underestimate Shakhtar at their peril
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Respect abounded ahead of FC Barcelona's tie with FC Shakhtar Donetsk, with Josep Guardiola wary of being "bulldozed" and Mircea Lucescu saluting "the strongest team in football history".
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FC Shakhtar Donetsk coach Mircea Lucescu, always a shrewd judge, said FC Barcelona "are simply the strongest team in football history" as he weighed up the Ukrainian side's UEFA Champions League quarter-final opponents. It is an opinion shared by too many, fears Josep Guardiola, who dismissed the notion that Barça can already start planning for the last four. "If we are not at out best," he warned, "Shakhtar will bulldoze us".
Josep Guardiola, Barcelona coach
Shakhtar will be very difficult. They're packed with good Brazilians, a very strong team that has grown over the years, getting better and better. People underestimate Shakhtar and I don't like what I see and hear. People think we are already in the semi-finals, people make fun of Dmytro Chygrynskiy; they take Shakhtar for granted. The feelings I have before the match aren't that good: we have to remember this is the quarter-finals.
Believe me when I say they are a super team: they are aggressive, work hard, play well, and have a very good coach. That's why they're in the quarter-finals, finished top of their group ahead of Arsenal. They have a lot of strong points and this season they have impressed me more than ever. They have seven or eight players from previous years and they have strengthened with a few Brazilians. I have warned my players: If we are not at out best, Shakhtar will bulldoze us.
I believe in my team, though. We're in the [Spanish] Cup final, fighting for the Liga crown and among the best eight teams in Europe, but you have to earn titles and to do that we have to play very well tomorrow. Every season we start off well, score loads of goals and then dip a bit at the end. Saturday's league match against Almería will be very tough mentally and that's the biggest danger for us: we're at our best when we're stretched.
Mircea Lucescu, Shakhtar coach
We have played against them lots of times. We know how Barcelona play. The players and I have a lot of respect for Guardiola – he's one of the most promising coaches in the world, very intelligent. Their players have been together for a long time, they are very fast, technically excellent and we have to counter that.
You all know Barcelona's strong points – we see it week in week out. It's the team spirit in particular that makes them so strong. Barcelona are the strongest team in football history for me so it'll be a very difficult match but we will have a good go. With the players we have, the talented Brazilians we have, we can do something. Barcelona are favourites but we have a chance.
We have to bear in mind we have two matches. Every other team has lost to them so we just want to play well and ensure we are still in with a chance for the return. Shakhtar have developed more than anyone in recent years and it's an important moment for us to reach the quarter-finals; winning consistently rather than getting one or two results.
Lionel Messi is confident he will recover from illness while Maxwell (thigh) and Pedro Rodríguez (groin) have been declared fit, the latter after three weeks out. Carles Puyol (knee) and Éric Abidal (liver tumour) are both sidelined.
Question marks remain over whether Chygrynskiy will recover from an ankle injury. His absence would leave Shakhtar short at centre-back, with Olexandr Kucher (knee) already out, but Eduardo (ankle) and Fernandinho (broken leg) are available.
Saturday: Villarreal CF 0-1 Barcelona
Gerard Piqué's first goal since September helped stretch Barcelona's unbeaten run to eight games, seven of them wins. Following Real Madrid CF's defeat by Real Sporting de Gijón, Barcelona are eight points clear at the summit – at the same stage last term the pair were level.
Friday: FC Illychivets Mariupil 1-3 Shakhtar
(Budkivskiy 57; Srna 19, Luiz Adriano 52, Douglas Costa 90+4)
Fernandinho returned to competitive action for the first time since breaking his leg in September and Serhiy Kryvtsov made his league debut for Shakhtar at centre-back. The Pitmen have won 31 of their 35 fixtures this term.
Did you know?
When the clubs last met at the Camp Nou in the UEFA Champions League, Shakhtar prevailed 3-2 in their final game of the 2008/09 group stage. Olexandr Gladkiy (2) and Fernandinho scored for the visitors – their side's only three attempts on target – while Sylvinho and Sergio Busquets replied for Barcelona.
See the match background for more information.