Manuel Veth –
Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk Champions League Preview
Shakhtar Donetsk – Champions League Preview: The Stadium
Metalist Stadion – (capacity 40,003)
Shakhtar Donetsk Champions League Preview – About the Club
Shakhtar Donetsk are back in the UEFA Champions League. Shakhtar’s elimination at the hands of Young Boys Bern in the third round of the UEFA Champions League qualification stage was perhaps one of the biggest surprises early on last season. The result could have been a major stumbling block for than newly signed head coach Paulo Fonseca. But instead, Fonseca took his lessons from the defeat and navigated Shakhtar through an almost perfect season.
Despite remaining in exile, Shakhtar Donetsk dominated the Ukrainian Premier League and easily regained the title from Dynamo Kyiv. Shakhtar lost just two out of 32 games collecting 80 points in 32 games. In the Europa League Shakhtar managed six wins in six group stage matches and there were a few pundits, who considered Shakhtar among the favourites to win the Europa League title last season. As it was the case, however, Shakhtar fell to Celta Vigo in the first round thanks to a dubious penalty given in the last minutes of the second leg. But the penalty aside Shakhtar also played sluggishly in both legs showing little of the spirit shown during the group stage. Some of this may have come down to the long winter break in Ukrainian football and with Fonseca having never before experienced a three-month break will be better prepared this season.
The results against Young Boys and Celta, however, carry a particular theme. Dominant at home Shakhtar had to pay dearly for small mistakes committed during international fixtures. With Shakhtar once again dominating the Ukrainian Premier League success in Europe will be the determining factor this season, especially as the club has now moved from Lviv to Kharkiv. Geographically much closer to their real home in Donetsk Kharkiv has been buzzing with Shakhtar playing their home games at the Metalist Stadion. With many refugees from the Donbass living in Kharkiv and with the local club Metalist Kharkiv going bankrupt Shakhtar have quickly established themselves as the biggest show in town.
Shakhtar have now been in exile for three years and for the first time since leaving Donetsk, and the beautiful Donbass Arena have something resembling home games. At the same time the conflict in Ukraine and the lack of a true home stadium has made it difficult for Shakhtar to sign any new players and as a result, the Ukrainian champion will enter the group phase without a significant new signing.
Know Your Oligarch:
Rinat Akhmetov was once the wealthiest man in the post-Soviet space. The conflict in the Donbass, however, has meant that his wealth has taken a significant hit. Valued $15.4 billion in 2013 his overall value has fallen to $3.4 billion in 2016. Despite making numerous statements that he believed in the integrity of Ukraine’s borders Akhmetov has been a controversial figure both among pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian forces. His activities to help the victims of the conflict in the Donbass have come under fire by pro-Ukrainian activists, who believe that he is using aid programs to support pro-Russian activities. On the other side, Akhmetov has seen some of his assets seized by pro-Russian separatists in March 2017.
Shakhtar Donetsk Champions League Preview – Opponents:
Drawn in a group with Manchester City, Napoli and Feyenoord Shakhtar’s Group F might be one of the most difficult groups in this year’s UEFA Champions League. Manchester City and Napoli will be considered the favourites to advance from this group. At the same time, doubt remains over Manchester City’s head coach Pep Guardiola’s ability to build a squad from scratch.
At Barcelona and Bayern München Guardiola took over teams that were at their pinnacle, but at Manchester City, the Catalan coach spent much of the first season clearing out dead wood. Spending €244.30 million mostly on defenders Manchester City will be considered the favourites in this group—at the same time doubts remain over whether the squad will have enough chemistry to be successful in the Champions League.
Napoli are a close knit unit and early results this season suggest that the Italians could be a force in this group. The Italians together with Manchester City will be fighting for first place in this group. Feyenoord in the meantime surprised many by winning the title in the Netherlands last season. The Dutch club are now back in the Champions League for the first time since the 2002-03 season and will be the biggest outsiders in this Group F.
Shakhtar Donetsk Champions League Preview – What to Expect:
Shakhtar Donetsk were handed a tough group. A few years ago the prospect of facing Manchester City and Napoli in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League would have given little consternation to the Ukrainian side—but since 2014 Shakhtar have lost several top players without bringing in new blood. As a result, Shakhtar will likely finish behind Manchester City and Napoli in third place.
Shakhtar Donetsk Champions League Preview – The Biggest Star
The Brazilian Bernard is Shakhtar Donetsk’s biggest star. Signed in 2013 from Atlético Mineiro Bernard finally fulfilled some of his early promises. Deemed one of the most exciting playmakers in world football Shakhtar signed the Brazilian wunderkind for €25 million to replace Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The Brazilian, however, never fully fulfilled his potential in his first season and was one of the biggest disappointments during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in his native Brazil. It took Bernard almost two full years to recover from that tournament. Since Fonseca has taken over Bernard has blossomed for Shakhtar playing a major role in Shakhtar’s return to the top of Ukrainian football last season.
Shakhtar Donetsk Champions League Preview – Likely Lineup
Pyatov – Ismaily, Rakytskyi, Kryvtsov, Srna – Stepanenko, Fred – Bernard, Taison, Marlos – Ferreyra
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.