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07 Apr 2011

As if affronted by the love letters to Real Madrid being written by the Spanish capital’s media following the hammering of Spurs, Barcelona were in swaggering ‘anything you can do’ mood here at the Nou Camp.

With Jose Mourinho’s crew having effectively already booked their semi-final booth, this flaying of a very talented, technically proficient outfit from Ukraine represented a handsome retort.

Extraordinarily, this was the 10th time this season that Barcelona have put five goals past a hapless opponent and, even more extraordinarily, they did so while not close to their truly matchless best.

Indeed, it all acted as a gentle reminder to Mourinho that, now the teams will almost certainly meet four times in the space of 15 days, the sort of treatment they handed out to Madrid here at the Nou Camp before Christmas could be on the agenda again.

If he was looking for chinks of light, Mourinho will doubtless have found a little in the absent-mindedness of some of Barcelona’s defending and in the ease with which Shakhtar’s brilliant, quicksilver attacking Brazilian quartet caught them on the counter.

Yet Carles Puyol should soon be back to steady the ship and, here, Barca squandered even more chances than they converted. Their patterns were as bewildering as ever, just the execution was a little awry.

Still, as so often, goals emerged from unlikely and wonderful sources; like Dani Alves, a full back popping up as a centre forward, to round the keeper; like Gerard Pique, a centre back smacking home a shot in the penalty area; like Seydou Keita, not usually at the goalscoring races, blasting a rare old thunderbolt.

Lionel Messi and David Villa, a zillion goals between them this term, could not even get on the scoresheet. No matter; Barcelona still won effortlessly on the bridle. And this, remember, was supposed to have been a proper, demanding examination.

Shakhtar actually played much better than when they were whipped by the same score by Arsenal at the Emirates but, from the moment Andres Iniesta scuttled on to a loose ball to slot home with Barca’s very first attack and then offered the *de rigeur* celebration for new dads by sucking his thumb, one suspected it would all be child’s play for Barca.

It wasn’t. Luiz Adriano and Willian, two Brazilian livewires, nearly struck back on the break, so there was real relief when Iniesta’s sublime ball over the top found Alves for the second.

It was thrilling stuff, intelligent football and terrific fluid movement carried out at hare’s speed. Johan Cruyff had warned Barca that Shakhtar’s Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu had produced a “masterful” team but Barca’s response seemed to be ‘if you fancy you can play like us, try, but the masters will show you how to really do it’.

So it was that they launched wave upon wave of attacks, Messi’s bright orange boots lighting up the night sky like tracers as Pep Guardiola urged them on, determined there would be no reason for alarm next week when they visit the stadium where Shakhtar have not lost for 55 games over two and a half years.

After Pique’s third - he was criminally unmarked at a corner - centre back Yaroslav Rakitskiy flicked home Darijo Srna’s free kick to give Shakhtar faint hope but Keita’s bullet came straight after and, though Adriano hit the post late on, it seemed fitting that Xavi, the conductor’s conductor, should side foot home number five.

Thoughts irresistibly started turning towards Madrid. “I think everyone wishes for this - it will be a great game if finally we can qualify, two of the most important teams in Europe” said Pique.

He has already helped grant his own wish. Not sure about Jose’s, though. If we all end up feeling *Clasico*-ed out over the next weeks, Mourinho runs the risk of being all Barca-ed out. For who can beat Barcelona? One suspects only themselves.


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