Shakhtar Donetsk won the 2009 Europa League but any thought that such success would immediately pay off in the more senior Champions League was dashed when last season they went out in the third qualifying round to Romania’s Timisoara on away goals in the non-champions path.
With the other Ukrainian powerhouse Dynamo Kiev involved in Champions League group play Shakhtar took the opportunity to recapture the Ukrainian League title. It was their fifth title since the 2001/02 season and with a 12 lead and 8 games to go they look well set to win the Ukraine League once more.
They have combined their domestic form with some impressive performances in this season’s Champions League although they got off to a relatively poor beginning in the group stage. A less than impressive 1-0 win against Partizan Belgrade was followed by a 5-1 trouncing by Arsenal at the Emirates. But Shakhtar then rattled off four consecutive wins as Mircea Lucescu’s squad went from strength to strength.
Nonetheless few would have picked them as favourites to knock out Roma when the sides were drawn together in the 16. Not only did Shakhtar qualify for the last eight but they beat Roma twice – 3-2 and 3-0.
Next up will be Champions League favourites Barcelona and it constitute the biggest test yet for a young Shakhtar squad (the youngest left in the competition by far) that combines the best of Eastern Europe with Brazil.
Lucescu recently told Champions magazine how Matuzalem was his first Brazilian signing when the took charge of Shakhtar and how the others such as Fernandinho, Jadson and Elano followed in 2005. Some have since left but some remain and they have been joined by the likes of Luiz Adriano, Douglas Costa, Willian and Eduardo (who can wear either hat).
The manager even learned to speak Portuguese and gives his team-talks in that language then it is translated for the Ukrainian players. So how might Shakhtar approach the Barcelona tie? They are a team that is always looking to get the ball wide and to attack with width. It starts at the back. The following snap-shots are taken from the second leg against Roma.
Centre back Dmytro Chygrynskiy was a big money buy for Barcelona but returned home after only one season at the Nou Camp.
You can see that the defender is a good passer and how many of his successful passes are angled out to full backs Srna (right) and Rat (left). He especially likes to switch play from the right to Rat on the left.
His defensive partner is 21-year-old Yaroslav Rakitskiy – a full Ukraine international already – who has played on the left wing, midfield and full back. Rakitskiy took over from Chygrynskiy when he left to join Barcelona No surprisingly Rakitskiy is pretty comfortable on the ball.
Again you can see that the pass out of the defence is almost always angled out to the wings and this case the left is favoured.
In the absence of Brazil midfielder Fernandinho, the Czech Republic’s Tomas Hubschman normally sits in front of the back four.
As we might expect given his task and position his passing is conservative but again we can see the focus on playing the ball out wide.
The problem would seem to be that if Shakhtar continue to try and play the ball wide and early it may well play into what has become one of Barcelona’s strengths – the ability to pressure and hunt in packs high up the field and to recover the ball. If that happens Shakhtar could by extremely vulnerable as they find themselves spread out rather than compact.
(For any Manchester United fan hoping for some diagram depicting the play of Douglas Costa in the second leg against Roma I am afraid you will be disappointed. The Brazil youngster was very quiet against Roma and contributed little of note. Maybe he will turn it on against Barcelona).
The diagrams have been provided from Total Football – Champions League app which will add to your enjoyment of the Champions League without a doubt.
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