Champions League opponents: Shakhtar Donetsk in the spotlight

Champions League opponents: Shakhtar Donetsk in the spotlight

A permanent fixture in Europe's premier club competition, the Ukrainian side are having to adapt to a new context in many respects

Matchdays 3 and 4 of the Champions League group stage are always potentially decisive for qualification for the knockout rounds. This time FC Barcelona will play both games against Shakhtar Donetsk after the home victory in the Estadi Olímpic against Royal Antwerp and the 1-0 win away in Portugal at FC Porto. So, this double header against the Ukrainian side on 25 October (home) and 7 November (away) could seal passage into the next stage. Here's a closer look at one of the big two sides in the country.

Current context affected by war

The current context of Shakhtar, Ukrainian football, and the country in general is conditioned by the war that began with the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022. Sport is one of the many aspects that ceased to operate normally, meaning they always have to play away from home, albeit this has been the case since 2014.

An earlier conflict in the Donbass region saw the club have to relocate to both Lviv from (2014-2016) and Járkov (2017-2020). They currently play in Kiev, some 700km from Donetsk, having done so since May 2020.

However, the European competition sees them having to travel to Hamburg in Germany for home matches, after playing in Warsaw in Poland in last season's competition. As such, the Shakhtar v Barça matchday four game will be played in the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg.

The dominant force this century

The Ukrainians are one of two sides in the country to share the major honours, the other being Dynamo Kyiv. Other than in the first season, both sides have won every league title since 1992 after independence from the Soviet Union. However, Shaktar didn't win their first league until 2001/02, when Dynamo already had nine. Currently Shakhtar have 14 and are in hot pursuit of Dynamo, who have 16 league titles.

European glory for Shakhtar with Brazilian inspiration

As well as league titles, they also won the 2008/09 season UEFA Cup. That season was the start of a run of five league titles, with the team a blend of the best local players and Brazilian talents such as Fernandinho, Luiz Adriano and Willian.

This UEFA Cup campaign saw knock out rounds against CSKA Moscow and their national rivals, Dynamo Kyiv, before they went on to beat Werder Bremen in the final for their only European club trophy to date.

Rebuild based on national talent

That triumphant team may be all but disbanded by a key figure remains in Darijo Srna. The Croatian former player lifted the UEFA Cup as captain and is now the club's interim coach, stepping up from his role as sporting director following the sacking of Patrick van Leeuwen earlier this month. Under his guidance and given the ongoing war, Shakhtar has had to rebuild based on national talent.

Although they have signed some up and coming Brazilian talents in the latest transfer window, their squad is largely made up of Ukrainian players, such as the central defensive pairing of Bondar-Matvienko, with the latter also a fixture in the national side and leader of a defence that also includes former blaugrana Dmitró Chygrynskiy.

Youth prospect Sudakov a threat

Now with the club since 2010, veteran Taras Stepanenko allows talented midfielders to push forward, such as Bondarenko, or Sudakov in particular, who aged just 21 years old, looks like the next star of Ukranian football to follow in the footsteps of Mudryk and Zinchenko.

Burkina Faso striker Lassina Traoré normally leads the line but a ligament injury has put an end to his good start to the season, so the goals will have to come from starting wide players, Zubkov and Kashchuk, plus two young forwards in Danylo Sikan and the Venezuelan Kevin Kelsy.

The season so far 

Shakhtar currently lie in third place in the Ukranian Premier League, a point behind Polissia Zhytomar and two behind leaders Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih. Darijo Srna's side do have a game in hand over the sides above them in the table and have lost just one of their 10 league games so far, a surprise 2-1 reverse against Vorskla, their first home defeat in the competition since August 2021. 

In the Champions League this season, the Ukrainians sit in third place group H on three points after an opening defeat on match day 1 at home to Porto was followed by an impressive come from behind 3-2 win away at Antwerp on match day 2.

Past meetings

Shakhtar's perennial presence in Europe's premier competition means Barça have already played them nine times. The first two times came over forty years ago, Barça winning the 1978–79 European Cup Winners' Cup two legged first round tie.

This century saw both sides drawn into the same 2004/05 Champions League group, with the double header resulting in two home wins (3-0 for Barça at the Spotify Camp Nou and 2-0 for Shakhtar in Ukraine). 2008/09 saw them drawn together again, and although Barça won in Donetsk, Shakhtar won at the Spotify Camp Nou, when Barça included a lot of youth players for the final group game having already qualified.

That season saw the blaugranes lift the Champions League in Rome and the Ukrainian side went on to lift the aforementioned UEFA Cup. Subsequently they faced off in the European Super Cup a few months later, which Barça won due to an extra-time goal by Pedro Rodríguez. The most recent meetings were over a decade ago now, when the blaugranes beat the Ukrainians in the 2010/11 Champions League quarterfinal, before going on to win the tournament again, this time at Wembley.

So, maybe the omens are good as Barça have won the CL after meeting Shakhtar in the past! 

Força Barça
Força Barça

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