Champions League Draw: Shakhtar and Chygrynskiy

Note: This was originally published here at ESPN Soccernet. Please click through and check out the rest of my writing there as it differs from what I write on BFB. The photo of Chygrynskiy was not used in the original Soccernet post.


The Champions League draw is in and many cules are no doubt breathing sighs of relief: Shakhtar Donetsk came out of the hopper instead of a tougher opponent. Except that Shakhtar is a tougher opponent and the route to Wembley is a potential minefield for everyone at this stage. And, indeed, overlooking the Ukrainian outfit and focusing on potential semifinal dates with Real Madrid (who face Spurs) would be folly in the extreme.

This set of matches, which take place April 6 and 12, gives us the opportunity to look forward and back, as I love to do. We’re heading to Donetsk where we will meet Dmytro Chygrynskiy for the first time since we returned him to that club. For those of you with short memories, we purchased Dima two summers ago for €25m in what amounts to a bungled transfer. He was cup-tied, having played in Shakhtar’s Champions League qualifier a few days before the transfer and subsequently failed to make many appearances in either La Liga or the Copa del Rey, amassing a total of 14 appearances.

We faced off against Dima in the UEFA Super Cup the day before he officially transferred. The rest of Shakhtar was there too, of course, but most fans were concentrated on the long-haired giant in defense. That was the middle of the sextuple run and Barça was going through a transition period, having purchased Zlatan Ibrahimovic and discarded Samuel Eto’o. Dima was regarded with some apprehension because of his price tag, but he acquitted himself well that day, neither giving ground nor injuring his future teammates.

When Barça sold Dima back for €15m in an attempt to both recuperate a part of what was considered a failed experiment and generate cash, there were sad, resigned shakes of the head from this particular commentator. It is naturally impossible to know the true state of affairs behind-the-scenes, but if various press reports are to be believed (and in Spain, why would you ever doubt their veracity?), Guardiola was not in favor of sending Chygrynskiy back to Shakhtar, but was overruled by Sandro Rosell in what amounted to a financial decision and, perhaps, a power play on the new president’s part. All that is merely speculation, of course, as is the assertion that Chygrynskiy was heartbroken at having to leave.

Regardless, he’s reunited with manager Mircea Lucescu, a Romanian who has been in charge of Shakhtar since 2004. Lucescu, a former striker, has been successful in several countries, but he seems to have found his home in the Ukraine. Under his guidance, Shakhtar has won the league 4 times (missing only 2006-07), the Ukrainian Cup twice (03-04 and 07-08), the Ukrainian Super Cup 3 times, and the UEFA Cup once (2008-09). That’s a fairly impressive haul for a team whose squad contains almost no players the average fan can name.

There’s Dima, of course, and Darijo Srna…and Eduardo da Silva, Tomas Hubschman, Razvan Rat, Willian, Luiz Adriano, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Andriy Pyatov, to name some of them. They’re no slouches, by any measure, which you know full well because they’re in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. No matter what you think of their CL group (Arsenal, Braga, and Partizan) or their Round of 16 matchup (Roma), they’re as far as they are because they’re good and deserve both respect and our total focus.

Despite being blown out by Arsenal in London 5-1, they beat them in Donetsk and ended up winning the group with 5 wins and 1 loss. And yes, Group H was weak, but no group is ever easy and no team can ever be overlooked because their route wasn’t as tough as another one. Anyone can win on any given day and forgetting that Shakhtar took the mighty Barcelona to extra time in the UEFA Super Cup would be foolish. If not for Pedro’s strike, we might not be the team of the Sextuple.

And then there’s Guardiola claiming Shakhtar is the best team in the Champions League and that they’ve lost exactly 0 of their last 53 home matches. That’s nothing to scoff at, even if the quality of their opposition in the Ukrainian Premier League isn’t up to the standard of the major European leagues. How would they fair on a cold, rainy night in Stoke, after all? Despite their league’s winter holiday from November until March, they defeated Roma 6-2 on aggregate, including a 2-3 away win, though they did recently slip to their second league defeat in a 1-0 away loss to Karpaty. They’re currently 1st, 9 points up on Dynamo Kiev with 9 matches left to play.

Nothing is ever easy at this stage. Ever. Barça has still to win a Champions League knockout stage away match under Guardiola, so a draw would be about as good as could be expected, though both teams should be going for it given their goal scoring abilities. The one thing, though, is that now we won’t face a gauntlet of London-based teams ahead of a Wembley final (had we drawn Chelsea or Tottenham, we might have been able to face off against 3 opponents from that fair city in a row). Instead, we’ll go the Ukraine in April, where temperatures fluctuate between 5-13C (41-56F) on average. Not too bad.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.

49 Comments

  1. Artur
    March 18, 2011

    Heh, ended up drawing two opponents I wanted to avoid Shakhtar and a possible EE..

    Hope our CB woes are solved and peak form is achieved by then ! 🙂 Visca Barca!

    • Artur
      March 18, 2011

      We play the winner of EE vs Spurs btw

      Man u vs chelsea
      Madrid vs tottenham
      Barca vs shakhtar
      Inter vs shalke

  2. blitzen
    March 18, 2011

    Does anyone know what time zone Waxtap Shakhtar is in? Just trying to figure out if I am likely to be able to see the away game live.

    And Razvan Rat may be my favourite player name ever. I know nothing about him, but I think we should buy him. 😀

    • Josep
      March 18, 2011

      Razvan Rat was my first buy in FM08 on every save. Set corners to far post, Salvatore Foti stand on far post = goalz.

      • March 18, 2011

        You my friend, know your FM08. I used to do the exact same thing!

    • Jnice
      March 18, 2011

      Donetsk is GMT+2. It’s 6:30 pm there now.

      • blitzen
        March 18, 2011

        Crap, that means no live game for me.

  3. blaunero
    March 18, 2011

    The best we can do at the moment is take it one game at a time. Getafe comes before anything else so that’s the most important game of the season. Shaktar is due to arrive only three weeks from now so that can wait.
    It’d have certainly been nice to have another defender to count on, especially now that that particular department is wearing thin, but so it goes. Milito has been poor and so has Pique, particularly since Puyol has been sidelined.
    Is there any news on Puyol by the way? He has been missing for 2 full months now.

  4. Josep
    March 18, 2011

    So all of us Barca fans are frustrated we drew Shakhtar and concerned and think RM will blow past Spurs.

    I wonder if RM fans are frustraded they drew Spurs and expect us to blow past Shakhtar?

    Shakhtar scare me, honestly. Like I tweeted earlier, Srna is almost on Alves’ level. He’s fantastic. They’ve got crafty Brazilians anywhere and boatloads of money (plus a beautiful stadium!)

    The travel is the worst part but thats been mentioned. I could see us losing this. But..

    Now that I think about it, we play these types of teams in group stages and have trouble. There’s no way we’re not clinical at home knowing wrapping it up there gives us much needed rest for a Clasico. We’ve got to come out swingin’ udders in the first leg and light up 4-5 goals.

    btw, Shakhtar haven’t lost a home game since 2008.

    p.s. managing Barca B sucks and is stupid. I bring up U-19 players and they automatically get called back. then Pep transfer lists most of my players for me and they get upset. damn you Pep.

    • blitzen
      March 18, 2011

      Why do you think Luis Enrique is quitting? 😉

    • Jnice
      March 18, 2011

      Srna is almost on Alves’ level. He’s fantastic.

      Take it easy.

      He’s nice, but he’s nowhere near Alves’ level.

      • Josep
        March 18, 2011

        stop trying to ground me son, I’m gonna murk you.

        Srna is a beast, and wait till after these two legs. the transfer rumors for him to move will be huge. and he won’t. that team has got mad $$

        • Jnice
          March 18, 2011

          I’ll slap you.

          “Beast” is reserved for Alves.

          And we’ve already been through all of the Srna rumors after Euro 2008. BORING.

  5. Lev
    March 18, 2011

    If true that Abidal will be back in August it is bittersweet news…SWEET because the operation went well and we will recover. BITTER because we are entering the business end of our season with our only consistent defender.

    May God and Puyol save us…

  6. Lev
    March 18, 2011

    (uhmmm should read: the operation went well and HE will recover!!!)

  7. Jnice
    March 18, 2011

    Pep says the Getafe match is the type of match that can make you lose the league. Especially with all that’s gone on this week.

    We know Pedro and Maxwell are out, so any lineup predictions?

    I think our backline will be Alves-Pique-Milito-Adriano. If Milito fails this, then Fontas surpasses him from then on. Personally, I think it would be wise to start giving Fontas minutes ASAP because it’s not inconceivable he’ll need to play in one of our big April matches.

    I think our midfield is straightforward. Xavi-Busi-Iniesta. But if it’s Mascherano starting, then I wouldn’t be surprised. He started our away game to Getafe earlier in the season and played some great balls to Alves.

    I’m certain Villa and Messi will start, so the only question that remains is Bojan or Afellay? Bojan scored last week, so I think Pep may feel inclined to give him the nod, but I think it’s about time we start Afellay. With Villa looking more and more fatigued every week and Pedro being out injured, the more Afellay plays, the better.

    • vicsoc
      March 18, 2011

      My starting lineup for tomorrow would be:

      Valdes
      Alves Pique Fontas Adriano
      Xavi Mascherano Iniesta
      Afellay Messi Villa

      Mascherano gets the nod over Busquets because they are both in danger of missing a game due to yellows – and I would rather have Busquets available for Villareal (especially if, god forbid, we lose another central defender to injury).

      Fontas has in all honesty been better than Milito when he has played.

      If Busquets is favored over Mascherano, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Keita start and Iniesta play in the attacking trident.

      • Jnice
        March 18, 2011

        Yeah, I temporarily forgot about Busi’s yellow, so I’ll go with your midfield and I like your lineup in general.

        • vicsoc
          March 18, 2011

          The real question is Bojan vs. Afellay. I’d rather see Afellay play but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Bojan gets the nod, especially after he put in a not-completely-underwhelming performance in the last match.

      • March 18, 2011

        my lineup prediction vs Getafe

        Valdes
        Alves Pique Fontas Adriano
        Xavi Busquets Keita
        Messi Villa Iniesta

    • blitzen
      March 18, 2011

      If Pep doesn’t start Milito over Fontas, he is saying he has completely lost confidence in him. I don’t think he has reached that point as yet, so I expect Milito to start. Fontas should get some decent minutes in the second half, though.

      I actually prefer Bojan to start (!) this game over Afellay. He is feeling good after scoring in the last game and he played his best all season, it would be criminal not to play him now. Messi and Villa will likely be the other two forwards, as this is pretty much a must-win for us. Flyboy to come on for Villa in the second.

  8. Lev
    March 18, 2011

    I wouldn’t mind Bojan / Messi / Afellay and play Villa if needed, but I suspect Bojan / Messi / Villa.

    Btw, Bojan picking up his last-third-of-the-season form could be huge for us.

  9. ak
    March 18, 2011

    offpost, a bit late, and probably already covered by some commentators before, but did anyone see the new adidas ad with messi in it. looks really classy, but should have seen more time on the pitch
    it’s really hard to understand why messi is so underused in commercial advertisements( at least in video format), considering he’s probably the best player to have ever graced a football pitch

    • vicsoc
      March 18, 2011

      Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he has some say in which endorsements he takes up? I’m not really very knowledgeable about football endorsements, but com everything I’ve seen from Messi I imagine he wouldn’t really enjoy filming and starring in commercials – not like say, Pique

      • Lev
        March 18, 2011

        Interestingly enough in Venezuela some people complain about Messi’s arrogance because of all his endorsements!

      • Lev
        March 18, 2011

        yikes! i really wish i hadn’t clicked on that link.

        The words “Thong Boy” come to mind 🙁

      • Eklavya
        March 18, 2011

        That picture should be wiped off the face of the Earth.

    • nzm
      March 18, 2011

      I think that it’s because of his (lack of) language skills. If he learned to speak English, the endorsements would come thick and fast.

  10. MoSSi
    March 18, 2011

    Mourinho is already whining about the fact that we have a extra day to prepare for the la liga classico.. Man that guy can whine..

  11. Miguel
    March 18, 2011

    how the inflatable banana (almost) saved football
    “However, the staging by City fans of a mock ‘fight’ between a giant Godzilla and a blow-up Frankenstein at West Brom is perhaps seen as the highlight of the ‘inflatables season,’ completely overshadowing a drab match. It served as a poignant, if unwitting, reminder of the ‘other’ terrace fights that had dominated the decade, and how this gloriously childish trend had partly overwhelmed what was perceived to be the norm at football matches.”

    reminds me of my friend’s annual bring your own kiddie pool party.

  12. Miguel
    March 18, 2011

    http://www.thefootballnetwork.net/main/s379/st167218.htm?

    this guy wasn’t very happy with the draw.

    neither am i. barca doesn’t travel well. i don’t have any doubts about barca going through, though. it’ll be mid april when the blaugrana plays in the ukraine so atleast the cold won’t be that much of an issue, right?

    • Miguel
      March 18, 2011

      “Instead, we’ll go the Ukraine in April, where temperatures fluctuate between 5-13C (41-56F) on average. Not too bad.”

      -how did i miss that?

  13. Lev
    March 18, 2011

    talking of whom, there are two excellent articles on/interviews with “the special one” on si.com

  14. Lev
    March 18, 2011

    btw, Miguel, your avatar? It is kinda small so I can’t make it out clearly…but is that the villain from The Three Amigos?

    • Miguel
      March 18, 2011

      yeah. i haven’t seen that movie in years. girl i know owned a white pet rabbit that had a patch of black on its upper lip. she named it “el guapo.” i thought it was hilarious!

      anybody really watch shakhtar in the champions league this year? someone have any incite as to their tactical proclivities? i think i never watched and deleted their recent match versus roma from my dvr.

      http://www.zonalmarking.net/2011/02/18/roma-2-3-shakhtar-tactics/
      //http://www.zonalmarking.net/2010/12/09/shakhtar-2-0-braga-tactics/
      //http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2010/dec/31/eastern-european-football-review-2010

      -i gotta read these.

      • Lev
        March 18, 2011

        yeah i ain’t seen it for ages either. used to love that movie when i was a kid.

  15. PhepheSa
    March 18, 2011

    I really feel bad for Abi. If we can somehow make it through to the final he’s going to miss it again. After the way he’s played this season it just doesn’t seem fair. I know the most important thing is that he’s healthy i just really feel bad for him as he’s getting old and probably won’t have many chances to play in a final as we all know getting to the final of the champs league is hard. I feel really bad for him.

    • blaunero
      March 18, 2011

      Well the good thing is that we haven’t made the final yet. Ifs and buts…

  16. Lev
    March 18, 2011

    So it is sure that he is out for the rest of the season, then?

    • PhepheSa
      March 18, 2011

      I saw the tweet from barcastuff about what the vp said but i’m praying it’s not true.

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