Having netted 18 goals apiece, we can expect another riveting European tieBarcelona with Shakhtar Donetsk, and although the Ukrainians will provide a stern test to the 2009 champions, Pep Guardiola’s side will be content that Europe’s elite have been side-stepped for now.
With heavyweights such as Chelsea, Manchester United, holders Inter and domestic rivals Real Madrid - should they eliminate surprise package Tottenham - lying in wait, the prospect of a two-legged tie against the ambitious eastern Europeans offers the opportunity for smooth progression to the last four.
There is no denying the fact that Barca head into the tie as overpowering favourites, much as they are to emerge triumphant overall. Shakhtar may have dismantled Roma in the last sixteen, but the Italians are a team in crisis, and the manner in which Guardiola’s side sliced through Arsenal en route to their 4-3 aggregate win suggests that it will be monumentally difficult for Mircea Lucescu’s side to stand in their way.
Their form this season will emerge as the stuff of legends; in La Liga, records are being shattered, and individual excellence is being re-established, thanks in no small part to the brilliant Lionel Messi. The Argentine has struck 45 goals in all competitions, including eight in this tournament, and better-equipped defences have previously tried and failed to stifle him. The 23-year-old seems to excel in the Champions League, the grandest stage of all, and his genius will be key to the Barcelona’s efficient advancement.
BARCELONA v SHAKHTAR DONETSK
|CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RECORD
|Twice - 2006, 2009
|Once - 1994
||2009-10||Third qualifying round
|CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 2010-11 STATS
|Lionel Messi - 8
||Eduardo - 4
|Three players - 2
||Darijo Srna - 4
Messi aside, however, there are countless other match-winners who can come to the fore and damage Shakhtar. Andres Iniesta, still riding the crest of a wave following his World Cup heroics, has been in scintillating form, and his ability to unlock the back four of any team means his impact cannot be underestimated.
Alongside him are Xavi and Sergio Busquets, for whom the 2010-11 season has witnessed development into one of the finest defensive midfielders in world football. Barcelona’s midfield are a ruthless passing machine, who can maintain possession for long spells and create numerous openings - characteristics that should prove too much for Shakhtar to cope with.
However, what remains key for the Catalan giants is to maintain focus. Yes, they face one of the comparatively weaker sides from the draw, but they must ensure they do not allow the possibility of a Clasico semi-final against Real Madrid to drift into their consciousness.
But while Barcelona may fancy locking horns with Shakhtar on home soil, a trip to the Donbass Arena in the second leg offers a sterner test. The Catalans will need to have their work done at Camp Nou if they are expecting to progress to the semis and face, in all probability, Real Madrid.
Lucescu is one of the luminaries of the European coaching scene and will not be fazed by a trip to Catalunya. He took a worse Shakhtar side than this incarnation there, in 2008-09, and won. Furthermore, only two last gasp goals spared Barca from being beaten in Ukraine.
The champions-elect purvey a brand of football that is both skillful and patient, with an emphasis on possession and attack. Brazilians Willian, Jadson and Luiz Adriano lead the forward charge while Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat supplement the attacking line from nominal full-back positions.
Emerging defender Yaroslav Rakytskyi will take his place alongside Dymtro Chygrynskyi in the centre of defence. The former Barcelona stopper can provide some insight on what goes on behind closed doors at Camp Nou but nothing about this Barcelona side can surprise Shakhtar.
Barca are too well known at this stage. If, and it's a big if, Shakhtar can escape Catalunya relatively unscathed then Barca might have a job on their hands. Guardiola has not yet won a Champions League knock-out tie away from home as coach and Shakhtar are defending an unbeaten home record nearly two years long.
The portents point to a favourable result for the hosts, but there is no guarantee they will still be in the tie come the second leg.