Ansu Fati’s superb second-half strike gave Barcelona rare reason to cheer as they boosted their Champions League hopes with a 1-0 win at Dynamo Kiev.
Interim coach Sergi Barjuan saw Barca held to a 1-1 draw by Alaves in his first game in charge and his team were second best for long periods here.
But, amid talk of Barca being set to appoint club legend Xavi as Ronald Koeman’s replacement, Sergi’s team claimed a narrow win that means he can hand the reins to his successor with their position in Europe much healthier.
It was Fati’s vicious close-range strike that made the difference in Kiev, the teenager rifling home in the 70th minute to send Barca second in Group E on Tuesday.
A promising start from Barca soon faded, with the visitors failing to produce a single shot on target in the first half.
It was only the wayward finishing of Mykola Shaparenko that prevented Barca from going into the interval behind, the midfielder twice shooting wide at the end of well-worked moves either side of Marc-Andre ter Stegen denying Carlos de Pena.
The same story played out in the early stages of the second half, with Barca struggling to create anything of note against a Dynamo defence that looked comfortable for much of the contest.
Fati looked to have won Barca a penalty in the 64th minute when he went down in the box, only for VAR to rule he had kicked his own leg, but he did then provide the crucial breakthrough by emphatically dispatching Oscar Mingueza’s deflected cross.
Ter Stegen produced a fine diving save to prevent Viktor Tsygankov from equalising, Dynamo left waiting for their first goal of the campaign as Barca took a step towards the knockout stages.
What does it mean? Barca get job done in unconvincing fashion
Barca could arguably consider themselves fortunate to take all three points after a largely uninspiring performance.
Yet a moment of brilliance ensured they leapfrog Benfica into second after the Portuguese side were thumped 5-2 by Bayern Munich. If Barca avenge their earlier loss to Benfica with victory at Camp Nou on November 23, they will qualify for the last 16.
Fati making up for lost time
Injury ruined Fati’s 2020-21 campaign, but he is proving just why the club see him as one of their next stars in the post-Lionel Messi era.
He has now been directly involved in four goals in his four starts for Barca in the Champions League, scoring two and providing a pair of assists.
Missed opportunity for Dynamo
Dynamo failed to take advantage when they had the upper hand, wasting several clear-cut chances. They suffered defeat despite finishing with 1.04 Expected Goals to Barca’s 0.81.
Though they can still qualify for the last 16, a place in the Europa League is likely Dynamo’s best hope, but they have a lot of work to do to achieve that goal.
Of more immediate concern than the visit of Benfica is Barca’s LaLiga trip to Celta Vigo on Saturday.
Dynamo host Vorskla in the Ukrainian Premier League on the same day, with their next Champions League assignment a clash with a rampant Bayern.