FC Barcelona will return to Champions League play against Shakhtar Donetsk without a handful of players, but intend not to use that as an excuse as they aim to stay atop of Group H on Wednesday.
“Our injury situation is not ideal but it is the situation we have at this moment. It is what it is,” manager Xavi said on Tuesday, per UEFA. “We are not here to complain, but to play better than the first half the other day. The fact that we have so many injuries will not be an excuse.”
The list of those who will miss this week’s European clash is lengthy. Forward Robert Lewandowski is still out after picking up an ankle injury in the team’s last Champions League outing, a 1-0 win at Porto, while Pedri, Jules Kounde, Frenkie de Jong, Raphina, and Sergi Roberto are also sidelined. Gavi will also miss the game against Shakhtar after picking up a red card in the Porto match.
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It is unclear which of the injured group, if any, will be back in time for Saturday’s Clasico against Real Madrid, but the reigning La Liga champions still have plenty of talent to rely on, especially in attack. Ferran Torres has four goals in 11 games this season and is expected to be the main man up top, while Joao Felix should also play a part after starting his Barcelona career with three goals in nine games.
“I am prepared to step up and take more responsibility in attack,” the 23-year-old Torres said. “I feel like an old man [compared to Barcelona’s many young talents]. I try to give advice to these players who are very strong and are establishing themselves in starting positions. A lot of pressure is on them, but they should handle it well. They have enormous potential.”
One of those players showcasing their potential is 17-year-old Marc Guiu, who bailed Barcelona out of trouble in their 1-0 win over Athletic Club on Sunday. The team dominated in just about every statistical category but were unable to find the back of the net until Guiu scored seconds into his debut.
The result continued Barcelona’s unbeaten run this season, but as Xavi admits, there is room for improvement. Look no further than the Porto game earlier this month, when Barcelona narrowly eked out a win despite a lackluster attacking performance. They dominated in possession and won the expected goals battle 1.14 to 0.6, but were only able to put four of their 14 shots on target, one less than Porto.
The performances against Porto and Athletic Club are not exactly cause for concern for Barcelona just yet, though. The team ranks within the top two in La Liga play for goals, expected goals, shots, shots on goal, and shot on goal percentage, and in the top six in the Champions League group stage in almost all of those categories.
Their shot on goal percentage in Europe is 38.9% from 36 shots after two games, tied for 11th with Copenhagen and well behind first place Porto, who sit at 53.8% from 26 shots. This is despite Barcelona overperforming their expected goals score of 4.03 — they have six goals, five of which came in the Matchday 1 blowout against Antwerp.
It’s clear that Barcelona’s first two games in the Champions League group stage played out very differently, which means each subsequent match will provide the opportunity for the team to show which side of the spectrum they truly fall on. This is especially true amidst their injury crisis, which will give Xavi a chance to demonstrate how deep his squad actually is — and an idea as to how far Barcelona can go in Europe this season.