The upcoming season of European football is a highly important one for Ukraine and its clubs. After largely disappointing UEFA Champions and Europa League campaigns in the previous year, Ukrainian sides will need to seriously perform this time round in order to preserve their amount of automatic group stage berths for the 21/22 season. The burden rests with Shakhtar Donetsk, Dynamo Kyiv, Oleksandriya. Mariupol fell at the Europa League Third Qualifying round hurdle. Whilst Zorya Luhansk were halted in the Play offs.
UKRAINE’S UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE REPRESENTATIVE:
League Finish 18/19: UPL Champions
UCL Finish 18/19: 3rd in Group F
UEL Finish 18/19: Round of 32
Home Stadium: Metalist Stadium (Kharkiv)
GROUP C : Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta
18/9 – Shakhtar v Manchester City
1/10 – Atalanta v Shakhtar
22/10 – Shakhtar v Dinamo Zagreb
6/11 – Dinamo Zagreb v Shakhtar
26/11 – Manchester City v Shakhtar
11/12 – Shakhtar v Atalanta
Shakhtar started the season with a managerial change as Paulo Fonseca departed for AS Roma. Shakhtar replaced him with another Portuguese head coach, Luis Castro from Vitória Guimarães. There was only one major singing to speak of this summer, with Ukraine international Yevhen Konoplyanka signing on deadline day for under €2 million. As for the outgoings; there were no real big player losses, with Taison staying after interest from Milan. Castro has enjoyed a positive start to the league season, unbeaten at the time of writing, with wins over Dynamo and Zorya Luhansk already giving his side the edge in the early title race. After a catastrophic start to the season from Dynamo, many have already conceded that the league is over already! As a result, it is looking highly likely that more domestic silverware will come under the Castro era.
However, it is the European campaign, upon which Shakhtar will be judged upon the most. Expectations have been mixed regarding their draw. The Miners were grouped with Manchester City for the third season in a row, to whom they lost 9-0 on aggregate to last year. The prospects in those fixtures speak for themselves. Elsewhere Dinamo Zagreb should be beatable both home away, whilst debutants Atalanta could cause some surprises; they really shouldn’t be underestimated after finishing 4th in Serie A last season. The group also sees Ukrainians Oleksandr Zinchenko (City) and Ruslan Malinovskyi (Atalanta) return to their homeland and face their former club.
Marlos pulls all the strings for this Shakhtar side. The attacking midfielder functions as as the intermediary between Shakhtar’s defensive midfield base and usually their one forward. As such he not only has to contribute through his passing and assists, but often takes it upon himself to share the goal scoring burden with mazy dribbles into the box and tidy finishes from anywhere inside the 18-yard line. He was hindered by a number of injuries last season and as such only played in three group stage games. He’s started the season exceptionally in the league and will be hoping to transfer this form into European competition.
Manager & Line up:
It will be interesting to see how the Luis Castro takes to his own debut in Europe’s top club competition. League performance is not an accurate measure of how well the side will do in the UCL. However, if the line ups from his first few fixtures signal anything, Shakhtar can be expected to showcase some technical attacking displays.
Expected line up for Man City (H)
Alan Patrick (CDM)
Konoplyanka (LM) – If Taison is declared fit he is likely to deputise
Solomon / Tete (RM)
One to watch:
Tete is a young Brazilian attacking midfielder, who joined the club in January. He missed last season’s UCL campaign and will be looking to make his debut in this season’s offering. It is unlikely that he will start from the off but he will be a key substitution for Castro, especially if Shakhtar are in need of some creativity or a goal. In a similar mould to Marlos, the youngster is an expert dribbler, with an eye for driving into the box. He’s also a good finisher, so expect to see the player on the scoresheet sooner rather than later.
2nd – Shakhtar have every opportunity to qualify for the Round of 16. They hold the experienced edge over both Dinamo and Atalanta and have a versatile squad that has both the firepower and defensive poise to cause their opponents problems. Junior Moraes’ goals will be key in their progression, whilst the Brazilian youngsters could enjoy breakthrough European campaigns.
In the grand scheme of things, it would probably be better for Shakhtar to finish third and aim to have a good run in the Europa League; over a knockout tie against Barcelona which sees them exit Europe before March.