BARCELONA, April 5, 2011 (AFP) - Barcelona took a decisive step towards winning the Spanish league for the third consecutive time at the weekend and now turn their attention to the Champions League where they face Shakhtar Donetsk.
Coach Pep Guardiola has overseen a remarkable run of success since taking over at the Nou Camp in the summer of 2008 and now Barça enter the final stages of the season fighting on three fronts.
|Barcelona's coach Josep Guardiola reacts during the Spanish league football match Villareal CF vs Barcelona on April 02, 2011 at El Madrigal stadium in Villareal. AFP|
When Guardiola arrived, Barca were in disarray with coach Frank Rijkaard having left under a cloud, unable to maintain discipline in the dressing room, and they had to play the qualifying round of the Champions League.
In his first season Barça won an unprecedented six trophies and then last year they won the league and cup double while Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan knocked them out of the Champions League in an epic tie.
Barça arrive at the quarter-finals in impressive form domestically as they are now eight points clear of Mourinho's Real Madrid after they beat Villarreal 1-0 at the weekend. It appeared a difficult game on paper but despite a number of absentees they were always in control.
In defence Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Maxwell were all out while Pedro Rodriguez was also injured and Leo Messi only fit enough to start on the bench. Meanwhile, Xavi Hernandez was missing through suspension.
Pedro is expected to be ready to face Shakhtar with Messi and Maxwell also fit but Puyol is unlikely to be make it in time, so it is likely that Sergio Busquets will play at centre-half alongside Gerard Pique.
With Barça also playing the final of the Copa del Rey at the end of this month, striker David Villa admits that the next few weeks will be key to the success of their season.
"At the moment I would not accept two out of the three titles. We have some very big games coming up now and that is the reason why I came here. We have to get a good result against Shakhtar at home so that we don't suffer too much in the return leg," he said, while also hoping to bring an end to his poor run in front of goal.
Despite having become the all-time top goal scorer for Spain, with two recent strikes against the Czech Republic, he has not found the back of the net in six games for Barça.
"I am not going to score by sitting down here and saying it a 1000 times. When you are not scoring you think about a lot of things but what I have to do is work hard and be calm."
Barça are looking for their ninth straight Champions League home win but Shakhtar, playing for the first time in the quarter-finals, travel with some optimism.
While Barça beat them in the Uefa Super Cup in August 2009, the Ukrainians won the last time they met at the Nou Camp, a 3-2 win in their final game of the 2008-09 Champions League group stage.