The match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Borussia Dortmund might not involve the biggest names in European football, but there are quite a few who suggest that his might be the highest in quality of the knockout stage fixtures.
For Dortmund, their relative slump in the Bundesliga this season after two consecutive league titles is worth it if it means they advance quite far in the Champions League. How far? Quarterfinals or more. They’ve been signaled out as one of the teams outside the usual consortium of elite teams in Europe to make it that far this season, and it seems that they’re willing to give up on the chase after the almost flawless Bayern Munich in order to achieve that goal.
The key player for Dortmund has to be İlkay Gündoğan, who sets the tone of the match for Dortmund in the midfield. A good passing game from him, being involved and playing closer to Gotze and Reus means Dortmund will see plenty of chances, although their plan is to mostly rely on the excellent form Robert Lewandowski is in (14 goals in 20 matches) and to simply do as well as they did in the group stage, which means an entire team defending with moments of flair courtesy of Gotze on counter attacks.
Shakhtar Doentsk didn’t finish on top of their group, but were the better and dominant side in each of their six matches, including the 1-1 draw in Turin and the 0-1 defeat to Juve at the Donbass Arena. That was the only time Donetsk have lost at home in 2012, and despite not playing a competitive match in more than two months, the team has played just as much as other European clubs, winning 10 of their 12 friendlies during the winter break.
Taison is the new big signing, while Willian went to Anzhi for a huge €35 million fee, but the Shakhtar plan stays the same. Luiz Adrian up front, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan plays behind him, joining him as the supporting striker. The support of Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat on the wings might be the key to opening up the Dortmund defense, which usually tightens up and is hard to crack on away matches.
Prediction – The winter break will always hamper the chances of the Ukrainian and Russian clubs, but Donetsk play some of the more enjoyable football to watch in Europe, and have been quite busy over the last couple of months. Dortmund haven’t lost this season in the Champions League, but a draw would be a huge success for them at Donetsk. They probably won’t get it.
Speculated lineups – Shakhtar: Pyatov; Rat, Rakitskiy, Krystov, Srna; Fernandinho, Hubschmann, Costa, Mkhitaryan, Teixeira; Adriano. Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Hummels, Subotic, Schmelzer; Bender, Gundogan, Kuba, Reus, Gotze; Lewandowski.