Shakhtar Donetsk must be absolutely sick of the sight of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. 2019/20 will be the third successive season in which they have been drawn against the Sky Blues in the group stages of the Champions League. Over the course of the four games they have played against each other in that period, Manchester City have 12-1 aggregate lead. The last time the two teams met, City won 6-0, the time before that it was 3-0. However, Shakhtar can take some comfort and encouragement from their 2-1 victory over City in December 2017.
Shakhtar have always been a team capable of springing a surprise in European competition. Their stadium is a hostile environment and their policy of signing native Ukrainian players in defensive positions and flair-full Brazilians in attacking areas has served them well. While it means they can at times be unpredictable, it provides them with a fantastic balance to their team.
But, while the Ukrainians might give them a good game, there’s surely only one way this tie is heading: a City victory. Guardiola’s men have been awe-inspiring in the Premier League over the past two season, collective 198 points and scoring a baffling 204 goals. But, while on home soil no one can stop them, in Europe they have faltered. Last season they left the competition at the quarter-final stage in dramatic circumstances, losing on away goals after a 4-4 result against Tottenham Hotspur over two legs. The tie was made even more memorable owing to the fact that Raheem Sterling thought he had won it for City only to see his late strike chalked off by the video assistant referees.
Having essentially done all they can in the Premier League, then, the focus for the blue half of Manchester this year is the Champions League. If Guardiola doesn’t win it in his time with the club, then his tenure will be seen as disappointing, regardless of their superlative performance in domestic competitions.
While City had very few weaknesses to improve upon, those areas in which they were slightly less strong have been added to. They signed Joao Cancelo from Juventus, with Danilo going the other way, and brought in Rodrigo from Atletico Madrid to fill in for the aging Fernandinho in the holding midfield position.
With these additions, City fans will be hoping to see their team launch a full-scale assault on the Champions League this year, starting with their opener against Shaktar. The ideal situation for them would be to send out a message to the rest of Europe by thumping their opponents 4 or 5-0. With the firepower at Guardiola’s disposal, who’s to say they won’t do exactly that?
Possible starting lineups
- Shakhtar Donetsk: Moraes, Matviyenko, Ismaily, Pyatov, Krivtsov Stepanenko, Alan; Konoplyanka, Marlos, Bolbat, Taison
City :Ederson, Cancelo, Rodri, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Zinchenko, B.Silva, Sterling, Aguero, Walker, Otamendi