At long last, Barcelona have won a Champions League game this season.
La Blaugrana beat Dynamo Kyiv 1-0 on Wednesday night following back-to-back 3-0 defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica.
Some would say that Ronald Koeman’s boisterous Barcelona are finally on their way back. Not me, though, nor anyone who’s watched them in the last couple of years.
Though the stats will say this is the most threatening Barça have looked all season (they made 2.42 expected goal) and they created plenty of clear-cut chances (five big chances and 12 in total), they were massively helped by a Dynamo side who seemed determined to boost the spirits of the subdued Camp Nou crowd.
For as much as Dynamo looked like they were trying to assist Barça, the home side looked flat despite those stats.
It was the old guard that combined to get Barcelona going, with 32-year-old Jordi Alba – Barcelona’s best player on Wednesday – crossing for 34-year-old Gerard Pique to volley home the opener.
Beyond the sole goal, Barça’s best opportunities came through more crosses from Alba or set pieces.
Koeman could see that Dynamo were vulnerable (a serious understatement) however, and threw on Philippe Coutinho and Ansu Fati at half-time.
Now, looking at the title of this piece, you’d think Fati scored a hat-trick and turned into a Ronaldinho regen. Not even close.
Fati’s half-time arrival brought a period where Barça at least tried to play nice football, a style befitting of their blue and red strip. With El Clasico coming up on Sunday, the 18-year-old looked keen to get a little sharper ahead of Real Madrid’s visit.
The same could not be said for many of his teammates, who strolled about the pitch as if the game had been dead and buried long ago. If it weren’t for Dynamo’s complete ineptitude to play football, they’d have been punished and the Catalan press would be coming down much harder on Koeman and his flailing team.
The most lively moment of the second half came when Fati robbed goalkeeper Heorhiy Bushchan of the ball on his own goal line, flicked the ball up and attempted an overhead kick. Sure, it went wide, but at least he brought some ingenuity and a spark to a lifeless game.
Maybe Barça’s players were too distracted by the visit of Real – who dismantled Dynamo’s bitter rivals Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 on Tuesday – but on another night they’d be staring down the barrel of their first Champions League group stage exit in 20 years. If not for the intensity brought by a teenager off the back of a serious knee injury, this may have been a reality.
Koeman has to get more out of his players if he wants a reason to keep his job other than Barcelona simply not being able to afford to sack him. An embarrassment in the Europe’s biggest fixture awaits them, otherwise.