The Big Match Preview - Manchester City vs Shakhtar Donetsk (Champions League)
Following what turned out to be a hard-fought but expected win over an in-form Chelsea side, Pep Guardiola’s men will now focus on securing first place in Group C with a game to spare - a feat that will be achieved should the Blues defeat reigning Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk at the Etihad on Tuesday night.
In the victory over Chelsea, Manchester City recorded just 46.74% possession - the lowest in Guardiola’s top-flight managerial history. However, it should be stated that this statistic reflects predominantly on how excellent Chelsea’s midfield trio of N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho performed against the Champions, as opposed to City being far less potent than usual.
Having only dropped two points this season, City’s opponents on Tuesday are simply walking towards the Ukrainian league title - sitting comfortably above closest rivals Dynamo Kyiv, with a staggering 13 points separating the two sides. Whilst City are the clear favourites heading into the fixture, they shouldn’t expect the match to be easy. Shakhtar’s Champions League survival could depend entirely on this game, and a loss may see the Ukrainian’s hightailed into the Europa League.
Manchester City's first encounter with Shakhtar Donetsk came in 2017, and the Blues have since defeated the Ukrainian side four times in the last five meetings between the two clubs - with Shakhtar besting a second-string City side containing Eliaquim Mangala and Tosin Adarabioyo. Generally, the standard of Ukrainian football pales in comparison to that of the Premier League, however it should be noted that Shakhtar Donetsk have been dominant domestically. Their sole loss this campaign came when they crashed out of the Ukrainian Cup against rivals Dynamo Kyiv after extra time.
“The Miners” appear to be cruising to yet another Ukrainian league title, and whilst the team’s offensive output is commendable. Shakhtar have also improved drastically defensively since the two teams last met have kept an impressive eight clean sheets in their last 13 games. Shakhtar’s Brazilian-born Júnior Moraes has scored 16 goals in 19 appearances this campaign, and considering how the Blues have failed to keep a clean-sheet in their previous five fixtures, the experienced forward could prove a threat to City’s backline.
Leroy Sané and Aymeric Laporte are once again absent and set to remain on the sidelines for at least another two months, whilst Oleksandr Zinchenko is also unavailable. David Silva and Rodri hobbled off the field at the weekend but thankfully, Pep Guardiola confirmed that the Spanish duo are both fit and available for Tuesday’s Champions League fixture. However, with City’s Spanish duo being unable to complete 90 minutes against Chelsea, Guardiola may opt to start Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan – who both performed incredibly at the weekend.
Unfortunately for the Champions, City’s all-time top scorer Sergio Aguero picked up a thigh injury against Chelsea, and the Argentine is set to be out of action for a ‘few weeks’ with him being expected to miss the Manchester Derby. Gabriel Jesus will be allowed to lead the line for the next few games with Pep and City fans alike hoping that the Brazilian will seize the opportunity. The good news is that Bernardo Silva returns to the fold, after serving his one-match suspension, and the Portuguese international is almost certain to feature against Shakhtar.
Similarly to his predecessor Paulo Fonseca, Shakhtar Donetsk boss Luís Castro implores his side to play attacking football. However in Europe, Shakhtar have shown a tendency to adjust their style depending on their opponents, often pressing less against stronger opposition. Castro often sets his team out in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation with Andriy Pyatov between the sticks and Ismaily, Kryvtsov, Matviyenko and Dodô generally making-up Shakhtar’s backline. In midfield, Ukrainian lynchpin Taras Stepanenko is often accompanied in the heart of midfield by Alan Patrick but in recent weeks, he has been accompanied by impressive youngster Marcos Antonio. With that solid foundation established, Castro’s side relies on the individual talent of his creative attacking players such as Taison and Marlos. With Shakhtar possessing several dynamic attackers, Castro often rotates the experienced Taison and Marlos with the younger Tete, Konoplyanka and Solomon, whilst Junior Moraes almost exclusively leads the line.
However, similarly to City, the Ukrainian leaders have several injury concerns as star striker Junior Moraes picked up a knock during Shakhtar’s 4-1 victory over Lviv last Friday. In Junior Moraes’ occasional absence this campaign, the far less prolific Andriy Boryachuk has started in his place and the young Ukrainian looks set to lead the line at the Etihad. Additionally, the influential Marlos is suspended, whilst Manor Solomon is ruled out through injury and Yehven Konoplyanka is also unlikely to feature, meaning that Luis Castro may be forced into relying on some fringe players to garner a much-needed result in Manchester.
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