Shakhtar sit in second in Champions League Group C as they welcome Atalanta at the final hurdle of the group stages! Whoever wins this tie will likely make next year’s knockout rounds!
After their valiant effort of drawing against Manchester City a fortnight ago, they will need to better such a performance tonight if they want to ensure their string of late comebacks in this season’s competition haven’t all been for nothing!
Shakhtar seriously impressed at the Etihad, despite missing their two most pivotal attacking players in Marlos and Taison. Their pace on the counter attack troubled City on a number of occasions and had some of their players been more clinical, a win was not beyond the bounds of possibility!
Furthermore, the defence looked resolute and assured, keeping the likes of Bernardo Silva, Sterling and Jesus quiet. Even when it was left down to Pyatov to save his side he was on hand to ensure there were no repeats of last season’s 6-0 defeat.
In what was a slightly makeshift Shakhtar side in that game, Castro has an almost entirely fit squad to choose from on this occasion. Changes can be expected along with a shift in the game plan. With Donetsk playing at home, they’re likely to play on the front foot.
As a result, Taison and, the recently returning from injury, Marlos can be expected to deputise. Alan Patrick looked world class against the Premier League champions and he will be expected to be pivotal once more, connecting defence and attack, whilst Stepanenko does the shadow work, cleaning up sloppy passes and hard impact tackles.
Tete impressed against City but it will be a toss up between him and Konoplyanka as to who will be sacrificed to bring back in the official Shakhtar captain Taison, whilst Kovalenko is the other player expected to move to the bench in favour of Marlos.
Predicted Shakhtar Line Up:
The Miners come up against an Atalanta side this evening that have been impressing domestically but have had a seriously slow start to their debut campaign in the UCL.
After three consecutive defeats, in the past two fixtures, the Bergamo side have started to find their feet.
A draw with Manchester City and defeating Zagreb means this tie is finely poised, with a potentially winner takes all scenario for both sides.
Ruslan Malinovksyi did not start at the weekend against Verona but was drafted in as an early first half substitution. He rather aptly put on one of his best performances of the season; he not only scored a sensational 30 yarder, but was instrumental in the build up for the other goals his side scored!
It’s uncertain as to whether he will start today, with Gasperini favouring others in the previous fixtures but he is more than likely going to make an appearance of some sort. Shakhtar will need to be wary of him once or if he does come on!
This match is technically a cup final fixture (of sorts). If Shakhtar lose, Atalanta go above them. If Shakhtar win or draw (depending on whether Zagreb win or not) could still scrape through to the last 16. Meanwhile one eye will be on the game in Croatia, with Manchester City already qualified as group winners, wholesale changes can be anticipated from Pep’s starting XI!
It’s going to be tough, especially as it took a 95th minute winner to see off Atalanta in the reverse, back in Italy but if they can play to anything of the intensity and determination of the game in Manchester then Shakhtar should be in good stead for being a ball in Monday’s Last 16 draw!