From the early days of domination at the hands of Alfredo Di Stefano’s Real Madrid of the fifties, to the swaying continental battles we witness on an annual basis today. The right to call one’s self champions of Europe has always brought out the best in the sport.
As with all things of this nature, the tides of fortune and favour change throughout the ages and across the history of the competition it’s became evident to see the rise and fall of many domestic leagues. Whether it be Holland with its iconic total football of the early seventies, England’s great sides of the late seventies and early eighties, or this modern Spanish revolution spearheaded by the current Barcelona. Tonight Barcelona take on Shahktar Donetsk in the first leg of the Champions League Quarter finals. As the pivotal league in European football fights off the rise of its latest opponent.
Ukrainian football has been progressing at a rate that has left many believing Shahktars’ place in this competition is of no great luck or fortune, but simply what they deserve. The Donetsk club has undergone something of a renaissance since the arrival of current owner and president of the club, Rinat Akhmetov. The prosperous Ukrainian strikes as an unfamiliarity across the modern game with his open wallet, yet patient attitude towards the progression of the club. Alongside the appointment of Mircea Lucescu, Rinat has funded a new approach that has taken the Donetsk club to the top of Ukrainian and European football.
The ethos of Lucescu’s side is built around the fanatical hunger for success that can only be grasped through the young internationals that he has spent a fortune collecting. Of course such tactics run the risk of turning the club into nothing more than a stepping stone for Europe’s brighter lights, but Lucescu has managed to continue progressing by matching the young prodigies’ ambition with his own. Since Lucescu’s arrival in 2004, the club have won the Ukrainian Premier league four times, alongside a famous night in Istanbul were they beat Werder Bremen 2-1 in the 2009 Uefa Cup final to become only the second Ukrainian side to win a European trophy.
Since then, Lucescu hasn’t stopped spending on the best young talent around and bolsters a squad of young starlets that has the rest of Europe green with envy. In the past two seasons the Romanian coach has spent around £35 million on new players whilst raising £41 million from moving players on without instilling an idle or content mentality throughout the club and its players. This in itself is why the club find themselves in a quarter final tie with Barcelona, in the greatest club competition in the World.
Shahktar have impressed in Europe’s premier club this season and with a goal tally to match their Catalan equals, one would assume that the Ukraine side can give just as well as they can take. Naturally, the credit is due to a hand full of merry travellers with the top five goal scorers for the Miners all residing from Brazil with Brazilian-turned-Croat Eduardo leading the charts with four goals in his six appearances in Europe this season. The midfield is likely to bolsters the fantastic imaginative trio of Diego Costa, Willian and Jadson, who started for Brazil against Scotland, in front of the disciplined pairing of Hubschman and Mkhitaryan who rest in front of the defense much like Xavi and Busquets do for Barcelona.
Lucescu has built this side around the basis of attacking football and alongside the creativity in midfield and upfront, the two fantastic full backs in Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat epitomise the side in the way they are as comfortable moving forward as they are in defence, with the former leading the clubs assist tally in the tournament so far. Partner that with a centre back paring of Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Yaroslav Rakitskiy alongside goalkeeper Andy Pyatov, who also keep guard for the national team, and you have a perfect blend of South American flair alongside Eastern European grit
A potential problem for the club lie’s upon how Lucescu may sets up his side for the away tie this evening. Only the mad would show up at the Camp Nou with the audacity to play attacking football, but for Lucescu’s Shahktar, a defensive approach would be disastrous.
The one and only game that stands out as a bitter reminder of what happens when the Donetsk side try and sit back was the 5-1 defeat to Arsenal in the group stages earlier in the season when they tried a defensive 4-3-2-1 as apposed to the traditional 4-2-3-1. From then on in, Lucescu stuck with his attacking 4-2-3-1 formation that watched the club concede only three more goals in their next five Champions League performances, including an impressive two legged tie with Roma where the club progressed with a 6-2 aggregate score thanks to a memorable gung ho approach to the away tie in Rome.
With this in mind, I would presume that the Romanian will be forced to try and beat the Catalan giants at their own game. An attacking formation set up in the hope that the Ukrainians can keep a close enough hold of Barcelona to take back to the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. To try and finally make their impression on this competition.
As featured on STV Football