CAN THE MINERS PUT THE LIGHTS OUT AT THE ESTADIO DA LUZ?!
Shakhtar take on Benfica in Lisbon tonight in the second leg of their Round of 32 tie in the Europa League!
They go into this evening’s match in the ascendency, having bettered their Portuguese opponents by 2 goals to 1 last week in Kharkiv. In doing so, the internally exiled Donetsk outfit ended their worst European ‘home’ run ever, halting a 7 game winless streak, with an impressively assured performance.
The Miners dominated the possession from the outset and did not look like a side that had been out of competitive action for two months. Rather, it was their opponents who looked lethargic, constantly on the back foot and short of ideas. Shakhtar were explosive in their drives going forward, descending quickly on any loose balls and determined in their duels.
Their opener came via a beautiful team move starting from the back with Matviyenko distributing a ball out wide to Taison, before some incise one touch passes set up Alan Patrick to arch an incisive finish inside the post. Whatever the coaching team had been working on during the winter break, it came to fruition in the build up to that goal.
Shakhtar should have scored more, before Benfica temporarily equalised out of almost nothing. Moraes’ finishing just wasn’t up to scratch, whilst Marlos found himself on the end of a marginal but correct VAR offside decision which ruled out his ‘opener.’
Benfica’s leveller was an intensely confusing event. Matviyenko lapsed in concentration, which was followed by some richoteting near the goal-line, ending in Benfica scoring what many had thought was a legitimate goal.
However after a VAR review, the goal was chalked off and a penalty was given instead due to a foul in the build up from Kryvtsov. Pizzi converted and Benfica were back in the tie.
Kovalenko ensured that Shakhtar’s extended efforts didn’t go to complete waste as he finished off a chance that originated from some poor Benfica defensive judgement, combined with some Taison tenacity. For a player who has cryptically been insinuating they want to leave the club on Instagram recently, the ex club captain did quite a good job of showing the opposite.
Shakhtar will be hoping that those missed chances and domination don’t come back to haunt them in Lisbon.
They go into the game with a fresh squad, the majority of first choice players, being handed a rest by Castro in the past weekend’s clash with Desna. They prevented a shock result thanks to a Marlos winner deep into stoppage time, likely prioritising the upcoming match, over a league fixture, where they sit 14 points clear at the top.
As a result, an unchanged starting XI from the first leg would not be too much of a surprise.
PREDICTED LINE UP:
On the other hand, Benfica ended a 4 game winless run on the weekend, narrowly beating Gil Vicente 1-0. They are far from being in their best form and it should favour a hungry, motivated Shakhtar to take the game to a team who have failed to keep a clean sheet at home in 6 matches! Compounding this, Shakhtar have a good record on the road in the Europa; winning 8 of their previous 10.
Whilst the stars look to be aligning for Shakhtar, coming up against a Benfica side just at the right time – they will need to remain vigilant ensuring that they don’t repeat the lapses of concentration that have plagued most of their European games this season. Many of which have led to conceded goals and in knockout competition, such fine margins are where games can be won or lost.
Shakhtar need to be wary of one thing – ‘Don’t lose and you’re through!’