Manchester City vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Tuesday, September 26, 19:45 BT/20:45 CET – Etihad Stadium, Manchester.
On face value, you might have been forgiven for thinking that Group F in this season’s Champions League was a done deal. With Manchester City finally coming to terms with the much-touted ‘Guardiola Style of Play’ and Napoli coming out of the starting blocks like a team looking to make up for lost time having finally fathomed thirty-year-old Dries Mertens’s best position, many people had written off the other two members of the group before the competition had even begun. But then, in the opening fixture of the group, Shakhtar Donetsk turned over an uncharacteristically cautious Napoli side in Ukraine, and the group was blown open. If, as it seems likely, Napoli are putting all their resources into a long-hoped-for Scuddeto, then suddenly the advantage swings in Shakhtar’s favour and makes Tuesday night’s encounter between Manchester City and the Donbass club the battle for the coveted top spot.
Of course, Shakhtar will arrive in Manchester well aware of their underdog status. City are the team to beat in the Premier League at the present moment and have frighteningly dangerous looking credentials in the competition to this point: 21 goals for and only two against, with 16 of those goals for coming in the last three fixtures. Such a run of form is redoubtable and foremost in the minds of the Shakhtar fans will be the question whether or not City will persist in their recent devastation of anyone who comes in their wake. Speaking exclusively to the Futbolgrad Network, Thom Harris of City Watch was optimistic that City’s current run of form could continue into the mid-week fixture, remarking that “there’s a definite hunger for collective success, and this, mixed with the imperious confidence we’re playing with, certainly makes me think that our form will continue on Tuesday night, irrespective of opposition.”
What is more, it is unlikely that City will take their foot off the gas for the Shakhtar game. Thom Harris continues: “From City’s perspective, Tuesday’s game is vital. Being the Pot 1 team in the group, a win against Shakhtar would put us in a fantastic position with six points in the bag after two tough fixtures in a competition where historically 10 points has been enough to see us through. For that reason, as well as the home advantage, I think Pep will set us up to go for it.” With City targeting an apparent gap between themselves and their opponents in Group F, then, there is little chance that this fixture will be a timorous affair: the Manchester City train is rolling, and it seems that few teams on earth can stop them right now.
In light of the potential for the match to inspire a no-holds-barred approach from Manchester City, it might seem prudent for Shakhtar to go into the game with a clear strategy for damage limitation. And yet, for Shakhtar’s coach, Paulo Fonseca, such defensiveness runs antithetic to his natural instincts. Espousing a philosophy which rests on the principle ‘attack is the best form of defence’, Fonseca is likely to set his team up to surprise the home team. As far as league results are concerned, this tactic has served them well: despite their continued exile from war-torn Donetsk, Shakhtar are sitting comfortably at the top of the Ukrainian Premier League with only one loss to speak of. However, Shakhtar fans will be wary of two knock-out legs played against Bayern Munich in the 2014/15 Champions League. Despite holding out against Die Bayern for a 0-0 draw at home, Shakhtar succumbed 7-0 in the away fixture in some part because of a refusal to mute their attacking style of play. Ominously enough, the Bayern coach on that occasion was none other than Pep Guardiola.
If their task on the pitch were not enough already, Shakhtar are facing an equally insurmountable problem of it: the loss of club captain and talisman Darijo Srna. Srna is currently under investigation by NADCU, Ukraine’s national anti-doping centre, having tested positive for a banned substance earlier in the season. Long term, this leaves the club in a state of limbo with respect to his future, but, for the time being, the club is now presented with an unneeded headache: Srna is a big part of the team, a leader on and off the pitch who has remained in the country even after the horrendous conflict forced the Donbass team to abandon Donetsk—a city Srna has adopted as his hometown since arriving from his native Croatia. His loss, therefore, will be very much felt by the club on Tuesday evening.
Manchester City vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Players to Watch Out For
Kevin De Bruyne #17 – Manchester City
The Player to Watch Out For for Manchester City this week was chosen by Thom Harris of City Watch. He writes: “While not matching David Silva for statistics this season, our Belgian playmaker is the king of the ‘assist of the assist’, as shown against Palace on the weekend where he provided another two of these. Also, he’s provided three assists in the league this season, all of them spectacular. With his menacing whipped crosses and defence-splitting through balls, expect De Bruyne to pull strings once more as he searches for his first goal of the campaign.”
Bernard #10 – Shakhtar Donetsk
The Brazilian, Bernard, is Shakhtar Donetsk’s biggest star. Deemed one of the most exciting playmakers in world football, Shakhtar signed the Brazilian wunderkind from Atlético Mineiro for €25 million in 2013 to replace Henrikh Mkhitaryan. However, Bernard never really fulfilled his potential in his first season and was one of the biggest disappointments during the 2014 FIFA World Cup back in his native Brazil. In the end, it took him almost two full years to recover from that tournament. More recently, though, Shakhtar’s diminutive number 10 has had a real renaissance under head coach, Paulo Fonseca. Nowadays, Bernard looks like the Brazilian talent half of Europe tried to get on their books back in 2013.
Manchester City vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Match Stats
- These two clubs have never played one another before in their histories.
- Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, though, has faced the side seven times so far in his career with five wins, one draw and one loss to his name.
- The loss came in the Champions League group stage in 2008/09 where the newly-appointed Guardiola’s Barcelona side ended up losing to Shakhtar 3-2 in the Camp Nou.
- Intriguingly, Shakhtar’s third goal on that occasion was scored by Fernandinho who is likely to start for their opposition on Tuesday.
- Barcelona, however, had already qualified for the knock-out stages by this point and went on to beat Manchester United 2-0 in the final.
Futbolgrad Prediction: Manchester City vs Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0
Manchester City vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Possible Starting Lineups
Ederson – Walker, Otamendi, Stones, Danilo – Fernandinho – Silva, De Bruyne, Sané – Agüero, Jesus
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Pyatov – Butko, Ordets, Rakitskiy, Ismaily – Fred, Stepanenko – Marlos, Bernard, Taison – Ferreyra
Manager: Paulo Fonseca
Thanks go to Thom Harris of City Watch for speaking exclusively to us about Manchester City for this fixture. Thom can be found on Twitter @Thom99McFc.
Jon Mackenzie has a portfolio career which includes freelance journalism, cryptic crossword setting, bar tending and lecturing at universities, amongst other things. You can follow his tweets @Jon_Mackenzie, listen to his podcasts at ateamofjohnosheas.com and read his writes at jonmackenzie.com.