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Champions League Scouting: A Look into Shakhtar Donetsk

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Not often does the historically mighty Bayern Munich take on a team they have never seen before.

Their trip to Ukraine at the end of February will not be their first, having faced Dynamo Kiev in years past. Shakhtar Donetsk is a whole different beast with their Brazilian-Ukrainian dichotomy, a globalization Bayern has never faced from Eastern Europe.

The club has had to migrate from one side of the country to the other, the struggle in the Crimean peninsula still in full force. Nonetheless, the club has maintained their success playing in Ukraine's national stadium in Lviv, and the support for the club has not waned in the Champions League.

The two clubs will meet in a weeks time, making it a perfect time to dive into what the club is all about.


Shakhtar Donetsk is a side that is not short of pace. Mircea Lucescu has parlayed the speed into a relentless, high-pressing system. Their flank play is their most prominent attribute, built more from the outside-in rather than having a solid spine. While their speed is able to cause many interceptions and turnovers in high areas, their ability to close down the ball is lacking. Once they get the ball though, they can turn defense into attack rather quickly.


Much of their defense is made up of the Ukranian national team; Olexandr Kucher, Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Ivan Ordets, and Vyacheslav Shevchuk were all called into recent qualifiers for the UEFA Euro Championship. There is certainly a familiarity with one-another, along with Darijo Srna, but they certainly count on midfield players for help. They tend to leave a lot of open space in critical areas, which leaves Ukranian No. 1 Andriy Pyatov on his toes in front of goal.

Lucescu's attack certainly relies on the defense, Shakhtar preferring to play the ball mostly out of the back. Kucher and Rakitskiy throw many balls forward, trying to find their pacy flankers with acres of space to run into. The fullbacks overlap on several occasions, often becoming the suppliers of balls into the penalty areas. Márcio Azevedo is the more attack-minded fullback, but he has mostly given way to the more traditional European fullback Shevchuk in the Champions League. Srna is certainly the leader from his right-back position, keeping the attack and defense in line as he runs tirelessly on the right flank.


Shakhtar's build-up play flows as if a stream has a big ruck down the middle. Taras Stepanenko and Fernando operated in a double pivot system at first, drifting towards the flanks as Srna and Márcio Azevedo bombed forward. As the season progressed and Shevchuk became the obvious choice over Márcio Azevedo, Lucescu switched into more of a single pivot technique, Stepanenko plugging the middle of defense as Fernando assisted with pressing. Neither Stepanenko nor Fernando are playmakers; those duties fall further up the pitch.

Taison and Douglas Costa are clearly some of the best all-around players that Shakhtar have, hence why Lucescu relies on them so much. The Romanian manager inverts them for the sole purpose of allowing them to cut inside and play diagonal balls forward. They track back extremely well, allowing for Shevchuk/Srna to come forward and facilitate the attack. Both are extraordinarily quick, and their engines do not stop running until they come off the pitch, but it is clear that their tanks are the size of Toyota Priuses rather than sports utility vehicles.


They are shifty and quick, but when they are not trying to wiggle their way through the defense, they are pressing to try to win the ball. In fact, most of the goals they scored against FC Porto were a result of their pressing. No one exemplifies this more than Alex Teixeira, who swarms the final third in both an offensive and defensive role. They are not a team that finishes the ball every well, although Douglas Costa and Fernando certainly are not shy from firing away lasers from distance. The best finisher is by far their 9-year veteran Luiz Adriano, whose astute runs and hold-up play are critical for what Shakhtar does.

The pace up and down Shakhtar's squad gives them a definite edge, but they are not the counterattacking team that the Champions League announcers were lead to believe. They certainly have the pace to break into open space, but they often cannot collect their thoughts well enough to score against the run of play. Shakhtar does take advantage of every meter of space though, Lucescu spreading his wingers as far as he can to create space at the top of the box. As one would expect with a squad filled with Brazilian influences, there is a lot of take-ons and individual play, which can sometimes work to a fault as the players try to manufacture every inch of space they can.

Player Snapshot

Top Class

Douglas Costa and Darijo Srna – The two are very different footballers from each other, but it is hard not pair them together to considering the terrific tango they display on the right flank. The two have played six seasons paired together in Donetsk, and they have a clear give-and take that gives Shakhtar a clear advantage on that side of the field. They support each other in attack and defense, and have the ability to make the key pass when the time comes. It is a matchup that several managers have struggled to cope with.

Olexandr Kucher – He has a large burden placed on his shoulders, often starting the play from the back while also trying to maintain organization of the line. His experience with the Ukranian national team is what really keeps Rakitskiy in line, and he often covers for the younger defender's faults. He also drives Shakhtar's offense forward, thumping the ball into space so his quick teammates can have a better opportunity to turn the attack on. He is not the best center back in the world, but he is nonetheless imperative to Lucescu's setup.


Luiz Adriano – Before you gawk at his Champions League leading nine goals, keep this in mind: a) eight of them came against BATE Borisov, who gave up 24 goals in the group stage, and b) three of them came on penalty kicks. He has strong hold up play for a striker, and does know how to get into scoring positions. That said, he is below-average in the air, and he mostly roams around the penalty box as the play builds up behind him. In all, he is not that difficult to make invisible, and that is exactly what happens when he plays against a legitimate pair of center backs.

Bernard – Thanks to his cameo in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, he is one of the more recognizable names on the Shakhtar squad list, but that does not mean he is a particularly good player. He is quick and explosive, but does not do the tracking back and the playmaking that would usurp Taison's spot. Lucescu mostly brings him off the bench so he can run down tired defenses late in the match, but his skill set is still incredibly raw, not one that is worth losing sleep over.


Taras Stepanenko – He is the cliched "unsung hero" from the center of midfield in a system that focus primarily on the flanks. He is rather versatile with his midfield abilities, and is the one (not Fernando) who directs the play the most in the middle of the park. Lucescu puts a lot of midfield responsibility in Stepanenko's hands, and he will be a big key for success against a Bayern midfield known for overwhelming their opponents.

Andriy Pyatov – Should he be shortlisted for goalkeeper awards? Definitely not. Would he do well in a top-flight league? The jury is still out. He is a well-above average shot-stopper though, one that faces a constant barrage of shots on his frame. He can also play the ball well with his feet, an attribute that many top goalkeepers do not have. He is not unbeatable, but Bayern will have a difficult time sneaking the ball past him.

How Shakhtar Beats Bayern

Clubs have already shown in the Bundesliga that you can counterattack on Bayern, but the formula for success is more complex. The flanks is where Shakhtar could have a definitive advantage, so Lucescu's wingers need to use their pace and their work-rate to exploit that edge. Their ball movement needs to be quick and decisive, and if they strap on their shooting boots, they could sneak a few past Manuel Neuer and Bayern.

How Bayern Beats Shakhtar

The game plan is rather simple. If Bayern play direct football and make methodical runs through the porous Shakhtar defense, the Ukrainians will have fits trying to contain the Bavarians force. With Shakhtar's inability to close down the ball, sharp shooters such as Arjen Robben and Mario Götze will have a field day barraging Pyatov with curling and swerving shots. The Rekordmeister will be heavily favored in this match, and previous evidence suggests they should be.

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