When Group E draws were declared, almost all football pundits and fans alike predicted Chelsea and Juventus to go through. Shakhtar, the other seed, were destined for a Europa League place, they said. The reason was they were against the holding European and the current Italian champions.
But how wrong could they be!
Shakhtar have not only impressed us with the results but also with their performance. Despite a draw and a loss, they were the best side on the pitch in all of their Champions league games played this season. All those who watched their matches would definitely agree with me that Shakhtar played some of the best football this season!
To dissect the success of Shakhtar, I analyzed the squad/Starting XI and the result was not surprising.
Shakhtar is led from the front by the talented Luiz Adriano, who acts as the main hitman. He is not tall, but takes good advantage of being agile and crafty. He can hold the ball fantastically well and can produce an odd clever pass for the attacking mid duo.
The Deadly Duo
Then comes the famous attacking duo of Alex Teixeira and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Technically they are attacking midfielders, but they are two top scorers for Shakhtar this season! Teixeira, 22, is an extremely talented player who is known for his poaching abilities and also jells well with the team.
Mkhitaryan, 23, is a well know Armenian forward who has excellent shooting abilities, along with the ability to support and supply to the forward line. This was demonstrated in Shakthar’s clashes against Chelsea and Juventus.
The two main players
However, the USP of the team lies with two extremely important men in the midfield- Willian and Fernandinho. Both are nothing short of world class players! Willian is the typical No. 10, he likes to be on the ball and direct the play. He has the vision of Pirlo and the skillset of Totti. At times he can also have a keen sight of goal. Fernandinho, who plays behind the line of attack, is a typical ‘box to box’ midfielder. He not only recovers the odd ball but also at times makes dangerous runs into the opponent’s box. He was arguably the Man of the Match in their unlucky defeat at the hands of the Chelsea.
On the flanks
On the flanks are Croatian captain Darijo Srna and Romanian R?zvan Ra?. Srna plays as a right fullback as well as a right winger, when his team goes forward. No one can doubt the capabilities of Srna, who has scored a whopping 19 international goals despite playing in such a position! Rat does the job as a left back perfectly well, defending at times and always ready for those threatening runs forward.
Coming to the defenders, they are represented by the versatile Tomáš Hübschman who can also play in a midfield role and the powerful Ukraine internationals Oleksandr Kucher and Yaroslav Rakitskiy, who has an excellent disciplinary record. Andriy Pyatov, the Ukrainian #1, protects the Ukrainian goal. However, when you compare the defense of Shakhtar to their attacking capabilities, you see a contrast. Not that their defense is the leakiest, but they lack the quality of a top European side. However, they are resilient enough, since the likes of Fernandinho and Rat come to their rescue many a times.
Having said this, I move on to the important question- could Shakhtar shock the European bigwigs and prove to be dark horses this season? The answer is yes. They have the capability to go all the way. They have tasted success in the inaugural Europa League, as the winners (in 2009), coupled with their impeccable domestic league season. (Note- Shakhtar have won ALL their domestic league matches, the only time they didn’t win this season was a draw away in Turin and a narrow loss at Chelsea.)
From Group E, they are almost qualified, but they need to continue their form against minnows Nordsjælland and avoid defeat at the hands of Juventus to qualify and knock out one of the European Giants. This would not only give Mircea Lucescu, their manager, a confidence boost, but would also establish a benchmark for clubs outside the big leagues.Published 09 Nov 2012, 22:25 IST