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Dortmund must not take Shakhtar lightly – Champions League Round of 16
The Champions League returns this week. There are some mouth-watering encounters to look ahead to, none more so than Shakhtar Donetsk’s home clash with German giants Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 first-leg. The former are by all accounts the underdogs with Dortmund storming ahead in the group stages finishing top of the pack ahead of Real Madrid, Ajax and Manchester City in emphatic fashion. However, Shakhtar pose a formidable threat. Write them off at your own peril.
The club from Ukraine are perennial winners of their domestic championship and are, as things stand, in first position in the country’s top flight 13 points to the good. It looks highly unlikely they will slip up, so the Champions League offers a welcome break from the orthodox league proceedings. Manager Mircea Lucescu’s were largely impressive in the group phase and a 1-0 defeat to Juventus on matchday six cost them first place.
Shakhtar are bidding to reach the quarter-finals for only their second time. But some, going on the team’s recent stellar performances in the competition, are predicting them to go a long way this year. They are arguably the surprise package of this season’s event and step-by-step they are improving. With a side on such high confidence, and used to a winning mentality in their homeland, it would be hard to bet against them causing another shock or two.
It helps Shakhtar are playing the first leg at home at their fantastically built and aesthetically charming Donbass Arena. The vociferous atmosphere coupled with the raucousness of the home supporters won’t make it easy for Dortmund – who have never lost in six previous contests against Ukrainian clubs. It promises to be an enthralling tie with Shakhtar’s style based on moving the ball around with pace and precision and Dortmund’s looking to exploit the opposition’s defence on the counter-attack. Both teams have top quality assets.
Although Shakhtar had to wave farewell to highly talented Brazil midfielder Willian in the winter transfer window, who penned a lengthy contract with mega-rich Anzhi, they still boast a very strong squad. Darijo Srna, the club skipper, is a versatile defender with an industrious demeanor. Armenia playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a serious goal source and embodies Shakhtar’s offensive approach, while there is a strong Brazillian contingent based at the club with the likes of Bruno, Taison, Luiz Adriano, Douglas Costa and more notably Fernandinho who is a powerful midfield powerhouse. Lucescu is by no means short on quality.
If Dortmund turn up in Ukraine and expect to just win then they must think again: Shakhtar are a formidable force who are not used to losing. The affair should be a brilliant spectacle.
Below are some general stats about the fixture:
This is Shakhtar’s second appearance in the round of 16 – the first time they beat Roma to reach the 2010/11 quarter-finals. Dortmund were most recently in the round of 16 in 2002/03 when competing in the second group stage.
Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund are looking to reach the last eight for the first time since 1997/98 when as defending champions they lost in the semi-finals. They got to the Champions League quarter-finals and beyond for three years running between 1996 and 1998 but have not been that far since.
The Ukrainians are looking for a third win in four home matches in this season’s tournament. Lucescu’s men posted Group E victories against FC Nordsjælland and Chelsea before a 1-0 loss to Juventus at the Donbass Arena on matchday six cost them first place.
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