Shakhtar face Dinamo Zagreb tonight in Croatia as the two clubs fight for second place in the group!
Zagreb go into the game as slight favourites, boasting an impressive recent home form and the fact that Shakhtar are nursing a number of injuries to key first team individuals!
The reverse tie in Kharkiv was slightly more difficult than many expected for the Miners as they went behind twice before pulling it back to 2-2.
That match was the catalyst for a poor run of games. Shakhtar drew their following league fixture 0-0 against UEL representatives Oleksandria and then lost to Dynamo Kyiv in the Cup. They may have won on the weekend just gone, but the side fielded by Luis Castro was a reserve team at best; players being rested and injuries playing a role in the line up.
Kryvstov and Marlos did fly to Croatia despite injury doubts but Konoplyanka and Solomon did not.
When it comes to the UCL, Shakhtar have been shipping goals and are unable to consistently rely on keeper Pyatov, who decides to drop at least one howler per game, forcing the forwards in the side to mop up his mess.
A reminder that during the Kharkiv tie, Pyatov decided to pull down a Dinamo player by the neck as a set piece was coming in with the ball nowhere near the pair. He will need to leave lapses of judgement like this out of his game, if they are to beat a Zagreb side with a potent attacking threat.
Dodo, a young Brazilian right back has been the saviour in Shakhtar’s last two UCL games. He assisted the 90+5 minute winger against Atalanta and netted against Dinamo in the home tie. He hasn’t started in either of those games but his attacking prowess and game changing contributions could see Castro favour him over the inconsistent and at best average, Bolbat.
The Maksimir will be hostile tonight. Not least due to Dinamo’s fans close ties with Dynamo likely to amplify the animosities. But Zagreb fans are hopeful that their best side in years can continue to deliver in Europe’s premier competition.
Shakhtar won’t mind this too much as their record away from ‘home’ is rather impressive; winning 15 of their last 17 travels. However, top scorer Junior Moraes will need to step up his own goalscoring exploits if they are to remain in pursuit of that knockout round place.
As mentioned previously, this match (as it stands) looks to be the second place decider albeit both sides may have some fallback. City can qualify tonight with a victory against Atalanta and as such may rest players in the remaining fixtures. Whilst Shakhtar still have Atalanta to play at home. The second spot in the group could be taken by either side.
But would it really be so bad if Donetsk finished third and gave a good run in the Europa League? Regardless, a big game awaits in the Croatian capital tonight!