COMPETITIVE FOOTBALL RETURNS TO UKRAINE!
Shakhtar Donetsk officially open the 2020 Ukrainian footballing calendar as they take on Portugal’s Benfica in the Europa League Round of 32 TONIGHT!
Kharkiv hosts the first leg of this tie with the Miners aiming to start the new decade with a victory!
There were no major personnel changes over the hiatus period for Donetsk. However, Mykola Matviyenko was close to joining Arsenal with the failure to agree on a mutual deal ultimately affecting the transfer. Meanwhile, former captain Taison remains at the club despite posting a number of cryptic instagrams hinting that he is unhappy but is persevering. Both players are expected to play a part in this evening’s fixture.
As is usually the case with these curtain raising ties for Ukrainian clubs at the start of a calendar year, intense and competitive football has been lacking since the start of the winter. Despite the fact that Shakhtar have partaken in a eight exhibition matches since January, tonight will be the first true test of their match fitness and sharpness.
Benfica currently sit top of the Primera Liga, a point above rivals Porto. They have been playing league football throughout the winter period. However, what may end up falling in Shakhtar’s favour is that the Lisbon club’s form has taken a dip just ahead of the UEL. They’ve lost games against second and third, whilst drawing the other in their previous three fixtures.
Regarding Shakhtar’s squad; Dodo will miss this fixture due to the red card picked up against Atalanta whilst Manor Solomon is out for a lengthy period. Apart from those two omissions, Castro has a full strength side to choose from. They will be aiming to keep a clean sheet to limit the away goal disadvantage, so defensively speaking, the Miners’ will be need to be compact and astute. Serious improvements on their UCL displays will be required.
Predicted line up:
On the other hand, Benfica also have a couple of players out. Weigl and Gabriel will not play. But ‘once upon a time’ QPR magic man, Adel Taarabt is expected to start having rediscovered his form this season.
It’s difficult to predict how Shakhtar will fare in their 2020 debut match but this home leg will the key fixture. If they are able to keep Benfica out, then they will have an easier task ahead of them at the Stadio da Luz next week.