Several years in the UEFA Champions League and several opponents vanquished, and yet their trip to Ukraine is one they have never experienced before. Not only is Shakhtar Donetsk the globalized European club Bayern has yet to encounter, but it is also the first time in several years that they will be entering a country in conflict.
Fortunately their match in Ukraine comes at a perfect time, at least a better time than when Bayern drew Shakhtar in December. European leaders have negotiated a ceasefire last week, and although L'viv was relatively removed from the conflict, just the relief alone will resonate from the stadium.
Ukrainian football have lowered allegiances to support the club that is trying to rise above the conflict, which will make for a passionate, unified atmosphere. The first leg of this tie will not be the accomplishment for Shakhtar Donetsk, but rather the ability to endure through hardship as a club.
The Match (1st Meeting)
Location: L'viv Arena, L'viv, Ukraine
Head: Alberto Undiano Mallenco
FC Bayern: 2 W, 1 D, 2 L – 6 YC
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FC Bayern: WWDLW
Bayern may have needed a few key turns to get the engine to turn over, but now it appears to be firing on all cylinders in the Rückrunde. Their shellacking of Hamburg reaffirmed their alpha dog status just in time for them to continue their Champions League campaign.
The returns for Rafinha and Franck Ribéry tipped the scales to a more balanced setup. Guardiola could need both with the flank emphasis Donetsk has, but his ability to deploy David Alaba circumvents that need somewhat. Jérôme Boateng's return will be necessary to contain Shakhtar's quick-punching attack, and Bastian Schweinsteiger as the single pivot will have his hands full with Alex Teixeira coming at him.
The attack does not need to be flank focused though, for the center is where Shakhtar is the weakest. Guardiola can thus use his Roma battalion (Mario Götze, Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller, and Arjen Robben) without a second thought, knowing they will take advantage of the space Shakhtar will undoubtedly give them.
With this being the first of the Round of 16 matches, Bayern have a chance to relieve competition pressure in a critical juncture of their season.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Mario Götze – Thomas Müller – Arjen Robben
David Alaba – Bastian Schweinsteiger
Juan Bernat – Jérôme Boateng – Medhi Benatia – Rafinha
Bench: Pepe Reina, Dante, Holger Badstuber, Xabi Alonso, Sebastian Rode, Franck Ribéry, Sinan Kurt
Out/Suspended: Gianluca Gaudino (illness), Philipp Lahm (ankle), Javi Martínez (knee), Claudio Pizarro (muscular issues), Thiago Alcantara (knee)
Shakhtar Donetsk's preparation for the Round of 16 is different than every club they have advanced with in the last four seasons. Why? Their match against Bayern will be the first official one since December.
Before assuming the fitness and form issues which could arise from such a long layoff, keep in mind this is a situation they have overcome before. Their first trip in the knockout stages involved a convincing dispatching of AS Roma, and hung with Borussia Dortmund until going up against the yellow wall. Mircea Lucescu has done one of the better jobs keeping his side fit and focused, and nine friendlies in two countries will make sure they are this time around.
There are no mysteries with what Lucescu is going to do, or even who he is going to play. Its advantage is the interchangeable parts that will not shake up the cohesion of the squad, but good teams have been able to figure them out. They rely on a lot of individual play, but their dynamic on the flanks is surprisingly fluid.
Lucescu will undoubtedly be conservative against Bayern as most teams have, but a team that is not good on the counterattack is going to have to come up with a different way to score. If not, their inability to keep the ball will be their undoing.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Taison – Alex Teixeira – Douglas Costa
Fred – Fernando
Vyacheslav Shevchuk – Yaroslav Rakitskiy – Olexandr Kucher – Darijo Srna
Bench: Anton Kanibolotskiy, Ivan Ordets, Márcio Azevedo, Ismaily, Ilsinho, Marcos, Olexandr Gladkiy
Out/Suspended: Bernard (ankle), Taras Stepanenko (yellow card), Vitali Vitsenets (knee)
Shakhtar has remained a potent force despite being a homeless club, but their personnel will be overmatched in the face of an accomplished, dominant force. Bayern were relentless in the face of a flattened Hamburg team, and every goal they score has more significance with the away goals rule. Shakhtar will have to draw their strength from the passion of the crowd, but their efforts will get snuffed out once Bayern get going.
Projected Score: Shakhtar Donetsk (0-4) Bayern Munich
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