CL Preview: Shakhtar Donetsk – Barcelona, second leg (1-5 aggregate), Tuesday 2:45pm (Fox Sports Affiliate*)
They’ll have their own remuntada videos and t-shirts. They’ll have a nation-wide campaign calling for belief and supportive screams throughout the evening. They’ll demand the stadium be dressed in black and orange. Or, uh, they’ll have their coach claiming it’s an impossible task. Whichever. I mean, it’s just the Champions League semifinal, nothing, you know, worth fighting for.
And of course Guardiola is going the cautious route: “I want to repeat, again, that the tie is not already won. Anything is possible in football, but we will work hard to prevent Shakhtar pulling off a miracle.” But him saying those things is like Mr. Rogers wearing a cardigan. It just happens whenever he’s in front of a camera. But something tells me this this 5-1 lead is insurmountable not simply because we’ve got Messi, Xavi, et al, but because we’ve got a different outlook from that disastrous 4-0 defeat to Getafe back in 2007. And no, I don’t blame Rijkaard for that, but it was the end of his reign and it was defeats like that which put a lot of people on alert despite the solid years. I freely admit I wasn’t one of those people and wanted Rijkaard to continue. Who knew that Pep would step in and smash all sorts of domestic and international records? Other than these guys.
Do we start Jeffren or go with MVP? Does Milito play or does Fontas get a shot at the big time? Given that our star-studded lineup in the first leg could barely hold them down for a little while, I’ll urge caution to start and leave the youngsters on the bench, but as I detailed over on Soccernet, Mascherano’s yellow card accumulation suspension for el clásico means we’re short a midfielder for a crucial day. It’s not that Shakhtar requires all hands on deck, but rather that not resting now means less fitness against Madrid over the next two matches. This means we’re pretty much assured of having Busi-Pique in the back line against RM in the league and the Copa del Rey. Puyol can obviously slot back in immediately if he’s ever healthy again.
The squad list is: Valdes, Oier, Pinto, Villa, Xavi, Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Maxwell, Pedro, Afellay, Messi, Adriano, Alves, Keita, Mascherano, Milito, Jeffren, Fontàs, Thiago, and dos Santos.
My suggested lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Milito, Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Villa, Messi, Pedro. We need to go out with energy and make sure they don’t get into it with an early goal. That would be terrible. We can’t look beyond this, but we also have to be aware that there are some serious weeks ahead. Mascherano has to play at least one of the clásicos and I’m choosing the Copa del Rey because, well, because I have to choose one. You could conceivably start both Busi and Mascherano to really shut down the midfield given that Iniesta is suspended, but I think that’s where Keita comes in more effectively.
With Srna and Chygrynskiy listed as doubtful, Shakhtar is less dangerous, but still capable of hitting us on the counter. We’ll need to slow the match down, but continue to attack methodically and never let go of the ball (except after we score and before we get it back 2 seconds later). I do think they missed Chygrynskiy, the king of their wookiee contingent, and I think they’ll miss him again because they’ll get caught out again. They’ll miss Răzvan Raţ a lot on the wing too, but they’ve got enough fast counter players to do damage if we ever take our foot off the gas.
Official prediction: 2-2. Goals by Messi (2). They’ve never lost in their new stadium, but I suppose it’s time they failed to win…
* A note on the channel: in the US, the match will be shown live on your local Fox Sports affiliate. In the New York area that’s MSG+ (48 and 748 on TWC). If you know what channel it will be on in your area, please list that in the comments for others.
But you wondered about the city, didn’t you? Well, at least reader ooga aga did and I’d be remiss if I didn’t indulge a bit in my own love of history and geography. So here goes:
Founded in 1869 by a Welshman not named Gareth Bale, the city was built around the steel and coal industries. While seeming to retain the air of an industrial city, perhaps akin to how Pittsburgh is viewed here, Donetsk also appears to have a large university population–there are some 16 higher education institutions in the city (Source). It’s also the administrative center of Donetsk Oblast, which has some really gorgeous stuff going on in it.
There are still massive spoil tips outside the city and and Rinat Akhmetov, the chairman of of Shakhtar, is involved in the coal business. Akhmetov is, in case you’re knowledgeable about the American coal industry or interested in it, owner of the United Coal Company through his investment company, Metinvest.
Shakhtar Donetsk was founded as Stakhanovets in 1936 as a coal mining union team, changed its name to Shakhtyor in 1946, and then FC Shakhtar (Donetsk) in 1992. Their new stadium, Donbass Arena, holds just over 50,000 and is going to host several Euro2012 matches, including a semifinal. It’s also gorgeous and was designed by the same people who designed the Bird’s Nest in Beijing and Allianz Arena in Munich.