Quarter-final, first leg – Kick-off: 19:45 (BST)
Shakhtar Donetsk coach Mircea Lucescu has described Barcelona as “simply the strongest team in football history” as he contemplated the Ukrainian side’s Champions League quarter-final opponents.
But, his counterpart, Josep Guardiola, dismissed the suggestion that Barca can already start planning for the last four.
“If we are not at out best,” he warned, “Shakhtar will bulldoze us”.
“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.”
Lionel Messi is confident he will recover from illness while Maxwell and Pedro Rodríguez have been declared fit,. Carles Puyol and Éric Abidal are both unavailable.
Barcelona were beaten 3-2 by Shakhtar at the Camp Nou in December 2008 before going on to win the final that year. They were also defeated by the Ukraine side in 2004 but beat them 1-0 in the 2009 Uefa Super Cup.
Mircea Lucescu, Shakhtar coach was full of praise for tonight’s opponents.
“We have played against them lots of times,” he said. “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.”
Lucescu has concerns over the fitness of Chygrynskiy who has been struggling with an ankle injury. His absence would leave Shakhtar short at centre-back, with Olexandr Kucher already out, but Eduardo and Fernandinho are available.