Win or bust as Shakhtar Donetsk and Borussia Dortmund meet again | Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson

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Aug 1, 2010
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Having drawn 2-2 in the first leg of their Champions League tie, these sides reconvene for a potentially season-defining contest
It was business as usual for Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukrainian Premier League on Friday, and that in a sense is part of the problem. They hammered Volyn Lutsk 4-1 and lead the table by 13 points with 11 games remaining. They are in the quarter-final of the cup and, with Dynamo Kyiv and Metalist Kharkiv out, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk stand as the only other probable winners. This has been a crushingly easy season for Shakhtar.
Too easy, really, and that means this season will be remembered largely for what Shakhtar do in the Champions League. Their last-16 opponents, Borussia Dortmund, for different reasons, are in a similar position. They lie 17 points behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga and were beaten by them in the cup last week. Lose in the Champions League on Tuesday and the season is over – although that view is one Jürgen Klopp has tried to counter. "I have read that it would be a lost season if we don't go through," said the Dortmund manager. "I think that's very harsh.
"We have a big opportunity to finish second in the Bundesliga: we wouldn't have dreamt of that three years ago. It is a very, very important match for us because we have the opportunity of reaching something new; the quarter-finals in the Champions League."
Both teams have produced their best performances of the season in the Champions League, both play a similar style of football and both probably feel a little unfortunate to have drawn the other at this stage. How Shakhtar must regret the 56th-minute Oleksandr Kucher own goal that meant they lost to Juventus in their final group game and so surrendered top spot.
Perhaps not surprisingly given it was their first game after the winter break, Shakhtar looked off the pace in the first leg against Dortmund, which finished 2-2. This is the perennial problem for teams from the east but, as the Uefa Cup/Europa League has proved, it could be an advantage later in the competition as rustiness becomes freshness. That must be the goal: get through this and feel the benefit of a three-month break against the weary limbs of players at western European clubs who have been playing pretty much non-stop since August.
"Donetsk scored twice against us in the first leg and they showed how dangerous they are," the Dortmund forward Robert Lewandowski told "We can't play for a draw, or aim to get a 0-0 or 1-1. That would be far too dangerous." Lewandowski's form seems uninhibited by rumours of a summer move to Bayern and he scored twice in the 3-1 win over Hannover on Saturday. "We desperately want to win it, even if it's not going to be easy. We know that we can score against Donetsk because we showed that in the first leg, and we should also get at least one goal on Tuesday. We're at home after all, so we've got to be positive. We want to, and have to, get into the next round."
While a 2-2 draw gives Dortmund the edge, Shakhtar have impressed away from home in the Champions League this season – even if results don't quite bear that out. They won 5-2 away to Nordsjaelland but drew 1-1 against Juventus and were then undone in a 3-2 defeat at Chelsea by goalkeeping errors. "They are always good away from home," Lewandowski said. "They've now played their first game after the long winter break in the Ukrainian league so they'll be fit and certainly in more of a rhythm than they were in the first leg."
Mircea Lucescu, the Shakhtar manager, made the point that despite Dortmund's greater match-readiness, both the German team's goals in the first leg were the result of errors. "For Lewandowski's goal two of our players got in each other's way, and it was similar for their second goal," he said. "Dortmund might be in better shape, physically."
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the win over Volyn on Friday was the goal for Douglas Costa, who seems likely again to replace Willian, sold to Anzhi over the winter, on the left side of Shakhtar's 4-2-3-1 formation.
"I really push Douglas hard urging him to go into the penalty area and finish our attacks," said Lucescu. "This is our problem, particularly with the Brazilians; I mean entering the penalty area and converting opportunities into goals."
Given they average almost three goals a game in the Ukrainian Premier League, it's a difficult problem to correct, and this is one of the problems with leagues as hopelessly imbalanced as Ukraine's; Shakhtar simply don't get much practice against teams who can genuinely compete with them and that makes it all the harder to perform to their maximum when they face stronger sides in the Champions League.
And these, without question, are two strong sides. Lucescu claimed that whichever team prevail will reach the final, which may be stretching it given the draw hasn't even been made yet, but he is right that both are serious contenders to win the competition.
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