Shakhtar make their way to Germany this evening to play Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg in the Europa League R16!
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the game will be played behind closed doors and questions have already been raised on whether the European season will be allowed to be concluded following escalating developments across the continent on a daily basis!
With this being an away tie, it may play into the hands of Shakhtar – the eerie and echoey atmosphere of the Volkswagen Arena almost certainly unfamiliar to Wolfsburg on a Matchday.
The most notable squad news for The Miners is that Taras Stepanenko will miss this game and the next month’s worth of football due to a knee operation to treat his meniscus. As is well known, Stepanenko is a key player in the spine of Shakhtar’s side, right at the base of their midfield.
He’s an understated but vital player for the national team too; so it will be interesting to see how well Patrick and the replacement work on the pitch in such a big game.
Patrick is likely to be expected to play a little bit deeper with Marcos Antonio (who impressed in Lisbon) and Kovalenko sitting just in front of the defensive midfielder. All three have been influential for Shakhtar going forward; so the onus will be on whether they can match this on a defensive front with the insurance of Stepanenko behind them.
Apart from that forced change, Luis Castro has a full strength squad to choose from. With the stadium conditions being taken into account, the aim to score as many away goals as possible will be the team’s primary goal.
EXPECTED LINE UP:
Wolfsburg are on an 8 game unbeaten run going into this fixture. Coming from behind in half of those to win. They comfortably dispatched the Dynamo ‘killers’ Malmo in the last round and seem to be more capable of keeping clean sheets than Benfica were.
This may be the first time these two sides have met but Wolfsburg are already facing their second UPL outfit of the campaign – having been grouped with Oleksandriya in the early stages. Whilst those fixtures were rather straightforward, Shakhtar look to be the strongest and most experienced side they have faced so far this season.
That being said, Shakhtar’s record against German clubs isn’t the best, winning just 2 and losing 4 out of 12 ties. So it certainly won’t be straightforward for the visitors either!
Whilst it may be difficult to prioritise football in such uncertain times, Shakhtar need to gain a first leg advantage ahead of the return tie. That is regardless of when or whether that Kharkiv game will take place at all – following a number of top divisions already suspending their own competitions until April!
It seems to be quite late into the season already but it is still way too early for Shakhtar to be looking at a European exit especially with substantial coefficient rankings at stake!