Reigning Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk host their Spanish counterparts Real Madrid in a Champions League group stage match on Tuesday evening.
A heavily depleted Shakhtar side completed one of the shocks of the season when they defeated Madrid 3-2 in October. However, in light of their subsequent results in the competition – notably losing their last two matches to Borussia Monchengladbach by an aggregate score of 10-0 – that victory in Madrid looks increasingly like an anomaly.
Los Blancos trail group leaders Gladbach by a single point ahead of their meeting with the German side the following week, but – depending on the outcome of the other group game on Tuesday – may need to get at least a draw against Shakhtar to still have a chance of finishing top of the pile.
When Is Kick Off? Tuesday 1 December
What Time Is Kick Off? 17:55 (GMT)
Where Is it Played? NSK Olimpiyskiy
TV Channel/Live Stream? BT Sport 1 (UK), TUDN (US)
Referee? Ovidiu Hategan
Shakhtar Donetsk manager Luis Castro embarked upon a Jurgen Klopp-esque monologue after their late 1-0 win at the weekend, lamenting the fact that his team don’t train, just recover. Shakhtar were forced to start their 2020/21 domestic campaign four days after playing Inter in last season’s Europa League semi-final and have fully felt the effects.
Castro has been without both defensive midfielder Maksym Malyshev and left-back Ismaily since the pair suffered knee injuries in June, while Yevhen Konoplyanka and Viktor Kornienko are both sidelined until mid-December at the earliest. However, Shakhtar did welcome back their key forward Taison on the weekend.
Real Madrid have been burdened by their fair share of injuries themselves this season. Midfielder Federico Valverde is a definite absentee as he recovers from a knee injury while Sergio Ramos’ hamstring strain may ensure Tuesday’s match is too soon for his return.
Karim Benzema sat out the weekend’s loss to Alaves but could come back into the side against Shakhtar. Eden Hazard limped off during that fixture and is a serious doubt. Having just returned from a lengthy layoff, Dani Carvajal is also set to miss out as he recovers from a thigh strain.
Shakhtar Donetsk: Pyatov; Dodo, Bondar, Matvienko, Marquinhos; Marlos, Stepanenko, Marcos Antonio; Tete, Junior Moraes, Taison
Real Madrid: Courtois; Vazquez, Varane, Fernandez, Mendy; Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo, Odegaard, Vinicius; Diaz
Since Shakhtar took a 3-0 half-time lead at Madrid in the opening week of the Champions League season, they have conceded 12 goals without reply in the subsequent three and a half matches. However, after losing to fierce rivals Dynamo Kyiv in the Ukrainian Super Cup, the Miners are unbeaten in the top flight, though they have drawn five of their 11 matches.
Madrid have endured a stuttering start to the season and already racked up as many league defeats as they recorded in the entirety of the previous campaign (three). Perhaps most worrying of all is that Zidane cannot explain their indifferent form.
Here’s how each team has fared in their last five outings.
SK Dnipro-1 0-1 Shakhtar Donetsk (28/11)
Borussia Monchengladbach 4-0 Shakhtar Donetsk (25/11)
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-1 FK Oleksandriya (21/11)
Dynamo Kyiv 0-3 Shakhtar Donetsk (8/11)
Shakhtar Donetsk 0-6 Borussia Monchengladbach (3/11)
Real Madrid 1-2 Alaves (28/11)
Inter 0-2 Real Madrid (25/11)
Villarreal 1-1 Real Madrid (21/11)
Valencia 4-1 Real Madrid (8/11)
Real Madrid 3-2 Inter (3/11)
After Real Madrid eased to an impressive victory over Inter in their last Champions League outing, Zidane made a telling assessment of his players: “When they have to turn it on, they turn it on.”
So far this season that has very much been the case, as Madrid have repeatedly followed up an indifferent stretch of form with a crucial victory, notably beating both Barcelona and Inter away from home after two winless games.
Even a depleted Madrid squad has more than enough quality to overcome a similarly stretched Shakhtar side, the only question is whether Los Blancos’ players consider this group stage match an instance where ‘they have to turn it on’.
Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Real Madrid