Champions League is back and we host Shakhtar Donetsk Wednesday night at 20:45. Look, out of the possibilities we could have drawn a few weeks in Nyon, this was easily one of the better ones. Personally, beside Schalke, they were my next choice. However, this is no game to take lightly, and Pep and the team, also Cruyff, realize this. Shakhtar have shown they are no pushovers thus far, winning their group over Arsenal and then very deservingly taking out Roma. Their record in the Champions League has been pretty excellent this term, winning 7 of their 8 games. The one loss they had was a 5-1 spanking against Arsenal in London. However in the 7 wins they scored 17 goals and only conceded 3. That’s pretty excellent.
I’ll do a little run down of Shakhtar. They’ve been a pretty consistent force in Europe the last years, even winning the UEFA Cup in the same year we won the Champions League (we then beat them 1-0 in the Super Cup thanks to a Pedro goal, but we were by no means convincing in that game and they defended very well). They actually are a rather wealthy club (newly) and have one of the best stadiums in Europe that UEFA donned with a 5 star rating. I think it’s pretty safe to say the success of this team has really blossomed with the influx of cash and the influx of foreigners, particularly, Brazilians. If you look at their top 5 goalscorers in the Champions League, all 5 are Brazilians. Leading the charts is Eduardo, the former Arsenal man. He really looked a rather good player at the Emirates, in particular he was a clinical finisher. But after that gruesome leg-break he was never the same and Arsenal eventually decided to eventually let him go. Then there is also Luiz Adriano, Douglas Costa, Jadson, and Willan with 4, 2, 2, and 2 goals respectively. Beside this quintuplet of Brazilians, there is a familiar face in Dmytro Chygrynskiy. Look, he may have come good but really in his first season I felt he was rather awful. His pace was shocking and frankly, that doesn’t develop with age or is something you can blame on a new league. Sure he could spray the ball around quite well but not better than Pique. I was very happy we sold him. There is also Darijo Srna, the Croatian captain, who a few years back had links to ourselves, Chelsea, and a few others. He is can play both defense and midfield as well as both the left and right side. He is also handy with freekicks.
This is the full list that has travelled courtesy of the Shakhtar website:
Goalkeepers: Andriy Pyatov, Artem Tetenko, Rustam Khudzhamov;
Defenders: Mykola Ischenko, Sergiy Kryvtsov, Olexandr Kucher, Yaroslav Rakytskyy, Razvan Rat, Dmytro Chygrynskyy, Olexandr Chyzhov, Vyacheslav Shevchuk;
Midfielders: Willian, Vitaliy Vytsenets, Olexiy Gai, Jadson, Vasyl Kobin, Douglas Costa, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Taras Stepanenko, Darijo Srna, Alex Teixeira, Fernandinho, Tomas Hubschman;
Strikers: Adriano, Eduardo.
It is only Monday night so the team news is definitely not confirmed and I will update with comments in the days to come. But, we should basically be at full strength aside from obviously Abidal. And well, Puyol. Nic mentioned over the weekend he read somewhere our captain aims to return against Almeria Saturday, but who knows, he could very well start tomorrow. Other than that, Pedro and Maxwell have both trained today and look essentially fit. Now who will be the starting 11 we will have to see come Wednesday night. Clearly Valdes, Alves, Pique, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, and Villa will start. That leaves the left back role to either Adriano or Maxwell, and then there is the issue at center back but I’m pretty sure he will go with Busquets back and Mascherano in the midfield. Otherwise, depending on Pedro’s fitness we could see Keita in, Iniesta pushed forward, or maybe a slight surprise with Afellay or Bojan.
I think Pep is going to have to speculate on Shakthar’s tactics and lineup accordingly. The truth is Donetsk isn’t a defensive team at the moment as I showed above with their Champions League goal record, but also in all competitions they have only not scored in a match on 2 occasions. They have a truckload of Brazilian’s who enjoy dribbling and attacking, and defending less so. However, I still cannot see them try anything but keep it tight and try to hit us on the break. If he is thinking likewise, maybe Adriano offers more going forward, and has more pace than Maxwell. Masch will provide an extra line of security that in recent matches he has proved how excellent he is in that role. Afellay will be more positive than Keita, but Pep loves our Malian and he is much more experienced in these games.
Being at home, it is vital we not only win but try and get a proper goal aggregate. Honestly, I am a bit concerned about if we will be able to do this. Villa is woefully off form, Barça are being both wasteful and indecisive in front of goal, and Shakhtar are going to come and park the bus and I still suspect park it hard. It could prove a very frustrating match with plenty of possession but no reward. Even if we go 1 up, I can still see Shakhtar sitting back and deciding 1-0 isn’t terrible going home with. They will obviously try and score off the counter or a set piece and if we are pushing everyone forward to break through their defense it could leave us vulnerable, even more so without Abidal and Puyol’s pace. Victor Valdes is going to need to be at his most alert and as against Villarreal I can see him playing sweeper-keeper a few times.
I think Messi is going to be as important as ever tomorrow. He can unlock these packed defenses or at least open the space for others. He has also not been at his best lately but maybe tomorrow will provide the spark and motivation.
Let’s see how it goes. Enjoy the game readers. Força Barça