Barcelona will seek to clinch a place in the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time in three seasons when they face Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk in Hamburg on Tuesday.
The Spaniards, who beat Shakhtar 2-1 at home last month, top Group H with nine points from three games. They are three points above rivals Porto and six ahead of the Ukrainians in third.
A victory on Tuesday will secure Xavi Hernandez’s side a top-two finish, earning them a place in the knockout phase for the first time since 2020-21 when they reached the last 16 and were eliminated by Paris St Germain.
“We have done our homework. Nine out of nine (points) so far, an ideal record and tomorrow we have to confirm our qualification,” Xavi told a press conference on Monday.
“We have a chance and we mustn’t let it slip away. The second objective is to go through as top of the group, we have it in our hands”.
Barca were eliminated in the group stage in the two previous campaigns of Europe’s elite club competition, finishing third and dropping into the Europa League on both occasions.
Having lost only once so far this season — 2-1 at home to Real Madrid in LaLiga — Barcelona struggled at Real Sociedad in LaLiga on Saturday, where Ronald Araujo scored the winning header in stoppage time to snatch a 1-0 victory.
“We need to dominate the game more and that means pressing high and aggressively,” Xavi said.
“The first half wasn’t acceptable but even without being good we reduced the deficit to Real Madrid and (leapfrogged) Atletico Madrid and that should be a turning point.”
Shakhtar are hosting their European matches in Hamburg this season, after choosing Warsaw in 2022-23, due to the war in Ukraine, which Russia calls a ‘special military operation’.
“We know it’s a difficult situation. They have had a long trip with the circumstances they have but we are here to compete and play football,” said Barca defender Jules Kounde.
“They play well with the ball if you don’t press them. At the Camp Nou we did well in the first half but not so well in the second. It wasn’t a comfortable game. Tomorrow we’ll try to play a complete game and press well”.