The Champions League beckons and a trip to Ukraine is in order with the destination being the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. The venue should be familiar to some of Chelsea’s English players as they visited this very stadium in Euro 2012 to face France and Ukraine in the group stages.
The positive to the timing of this meeting is that we don’t have to make the trek to Ukraine in the middle of winter. The negatives are that a visit from Manchester United lurks along with having to face Shakhtar in two weeks’ time in an immediate return at Stamford Bridge. This sequence is of particular importance, given that we are level on points with Shakhtar with 4, and Juventus, with two, face home and away matches against FC Nordsjaelland, and you would assume they would take maximum points from the Danes.
The Blues will enter the match with a full squad with John Terry eligible to play in European matches. Despite the return of Chelsea’s leader and the most experienced center back, Shakhtar will provide a massive challenge given the number of flair players in the side. Recently, the Brazilian contingency in Donetsk has increased with a number of good Brazilian players who have sought fame and fortune in Eastern Europe. This will be a test.
This is a very cohesive side, despite not necessarily having the credentials in the Champions League that you would expect.
Last season marked a challenging campaign for the Shakhtar Donestk in the Champions League. Despite reaching the quarterfinals in the 2010-2011 edition where they lost to Barcelona, last season, they failed to qualify from a group that included Porto, Zenit St. Petersburg, and APOEL Nicosia.
The side that faced that disappointment is largely the same core of players, and many of the same players were still there when they faced Barcelona. Given their time together, their style of play is very distinct and they play a very fluid brand of football, which is made all the better because of their experience as a squad.
The Brazilian contingent brings the flair.
Let’s face it. Ukraine is the last place that you would expect to find this many Brazilian footballers, yet there are many. Whether it be the way that Shakhtar are able to pay wages up front to players or the chance to see more playing time for some of the more well-known and sought after players, Shakhtar have assembled quite a selection of young attackers that will pose a question mark for our defence.
Perhaps the most well known of the Brazilian players for Shakhtar is the man that we tried to buy last season, Willian. The interesting thing about Willian is that he’s really an attacking midfielder that likes to run at players, but for Shakhtar, he plays in the wide areas, mostly because Henrikh Mkhitaryan occupies the central position. He’s not a classic out and out winger, mostly because Shakhtar adopt the tactic of playing inverted wingers who try and cut inside. Willian is probably the most recognizable to Chelsea supporters, but he’s not necessarily the most dangerous.
Even though we know of Willian, Douglas Costa might be the more dangerous of the wide players for Shakhtar.
For those who may be newer to the sport, or who simply may have forgotten all the transfer rumours that get tossed around, when Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United, one of the players that had been talked about as his replacement was a two-footed winger with dribbling skills from Gremio named Douglas Costa. Over the years, his stock fell over the whole of Europe, mostly because of the giant, prohibitive price tag that Gremio slapped on a player that, to that point in time, hadn’t quite lived up to his fabled billing at Gremio.
In 2010, for just €6M, Douglas Costa moved to Shakhtar and has reveled in a more free role to drift and switch flanks with Willian opposite. In 78 matches, he’s scored 16 goals, but his greatest contribution in his ability to run at full backs while being able to play with both feet.
Shakhtar’s main goal threat is Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who traditionally is an attacking midfielder who plays off a striker.
To me, the most dangerous of all the Shakhtar men is Mkhitaryan, who is averaging better than a goal a game this season with Shakhtar, having netted 16 times in just 14 appearances. It’s hard to describe his style of play, but he’s capable of playing deeper, behind the striker as a playmaker, or further forward as a support striker if needed.
It was Mkhitaryan and Taras Stepanenko who convinced manager Mircea Lucescu to cash in on Jadson and send the 28-year-old Brazilian back home to Brazil. Since that move, Mkhitaryan has been the main benefactor of Willian, Douglas Costa, and Alex Teixeira’s creativity to lead the scoring charts in the Ukraine.
The biggest weakness of Shakhtar might be that they’re too attack-minded which just might provide our openings.
If you look at their squad, they play with 2 center backs, one holding midfielder (Fernandinho), 2 attacking fullbacks (Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat), and a bunch of attackers. The interesting thing is that it somewhat mirrors the formula that we’ve employed in a 4-2-3-1 shape, but the difference is they play a lot more on the ball and with the dribble.
The other factor is that, similar to Arsenal, they sometimes play the simple possession pass without necessarily planning how to go forward and score. You could see in the Juventus match that while Shakhtar looked dangerous, they also had a lot of trouble penetrating the Juventus defence, which to be fair, is very good.
The secondary weakness is that neither Srna nor Rat is a particularly good defender. They can attack wonderfully, but when asked to track back, their weakness emerge. The exploit for us is our ability to counter quickly through all four of our attackers. If Shakhtar push to high up, there will be lots of space for Eden Hazard, Oscar, Juan Mata, and Fernando Torres to attack.