Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 26 September 2017
Referee: Manuel de Sousa
Kick off: 19:45
Manchester City return to European duties on Tuesday evening, welcoming reigning Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk to the Etihad Stadium. The Blues continued their breathtaking form with a 5-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon, increasing their goal tally to 16 scored in the past three league games.
City’s European campaign could not have started better either, seeing off Feyernoord with a convincing 4-0 win in Rotterdam. Shakhtar has also enjoyed a good start to the competition, shocking Napoli in the first game of the group stage and running out 2-1 winners in a tight contest. The result against the Italian side was a massive statement, proving that Shakhtar can compete with Europe’s top teams.
Guardiola announced on Monday afternoon that both Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gündogan are certain to miss the match. The manager remained vague about the state of Benjamin Mendy, revealing the left-back will undergo a test to see whether he is fit for the encounter.
For Shakhtar, captain Darijo Srna is certain to miss the game after recently being tested positive for a banned substance. Srna has often been credited for both his on-field and off-field contribution for Shakhtar. Losing him is a massive blow for the visitors.
Shakhtar are managed by Paulo Fonseca, who won the Ukrainian treble in his first season as a coach in Donetsk after joining from Braga in June 2016. City are going to face an in-form Shakhtar side who currently sit atop the Ukrainian Premier Liga after ten games played, averaging an impressive 2.5 points per game. The side won the league last season with a 13-point difference to runners-up Dynamo Kyiv, outlining their national dominance.
The club has been impacted heavily by the ongoing war in the Donbass area in eastern Ukraine. After Shakhtar’s stadium was damaged by artillery shelling in 2014, they moved their home games to Kharkiv – more than 300 kilometres away from Donetsk.
The war also affected the recruitment strategy of the club, now increasingly focused on the development of local talent as much as the transfers of promising, mainly South American players. City midfielder Fernandinho is a prime example of the previous approach: brought in from Brazil at a young age and ultimately sold with profit. Chelsea winger Willian as well as Douglas Costa (Juventus) followed a very similar path, joining Shakhtar before leaving for European powerhouses.
Fonseca’s team is built upon a, bar left-back Ismaily, entirely Ukrainian backline. The attacking part of the squad is wholly South American, with wingers Taison and Marlos perhaps the most evident threat to City’s defence.
Domestically, Shakhtar utilise a very attacking style which they also used against Napoli. This might give City plenty of opportunities on the counter but will also certainly test the Blues’ backline more than Feyenoord did two weeks ago.
Shakhtar’s performance and result against a strong Napoli side shows that they are force to be reckoned with. Fonseca’s attacking approach could turn out to be for the Blues’ advantage, opening up space on the counter. Considering City’s astonishing form and the current efficiency in front of goal, I’ll go for a 3-1 win with Gabriel Jesus scoring the opener.