Shakhtar Donetsk take on Olympique de Marseille in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals on Thursday evening in what is sure to be a enthralling encounter, Goal.com reported. The Ukrainians reached this stage by knocking out one of the favourites for the tournament in the form of CSKA Moscow, whilst Marseille eventually saw off free-flowing Ajax after extra-time…
Whilst many people would have looked for a UEFA Cup winner from the Champions League cast-offs this season, few would have picked out either of these two teams as potential candidates. However, Ukrainian side Shakhtar have already picked up plenty of scalps by getting this far in Europe, including possibly the biggest of all: Barcelona.
During the group stages, not only did they beat the Catalan side, but they beat them at the Camp Nou, scoring three times against them to end the campaign on a high. That victory might not have served to keep them in the competition, but it signalled just how strong this team is, and in the UEFA Cup they have only strengthened that reputation. A convincing win over Tottenham Hotspur might not be the most impressive result, especially considering the English side were without many of their players for the first-leg, but their victory over CSKA Moscow in the last round was certainly something to admire.
Before meeting Shakhtar, the Russians had yet to be beaten in the competition, and had topped their group with ease, picking up a maximum 12 points in the process. However, in the Ukraine they, like so many other teams this season, found life hard, and were eventually beaten 2-0 by their hosts. That victory has put Shakhtar into the quarter-finals for the first time and they come into the match in good form. They have won their last three home games without conceding a goal and scoring nine themselves in the process.
Last Gasp Marseille
Whilst Shakhtar have impressed in both rounds of the knock-out stages so far, Marseille have left it late to progress on both occasions. Against Twente they only managed to make it through after a penalty shoot-out, which was decided following eight attempts each on goal and in the last 16 it took them until extra-time to beat Dutch side Ajax.
Domestically they have been on top of their game and, with 30 games played in the Ligue 1 season, they trail defending champions Olympique Lyonnais by just a single point. Mamadou Niang grabbed two at the weekend as they put Saint-Etienne to the sword and Erik Gerets will be hoping for more of the same this Thursday evening.
The coach will no doubt be concerned by their away form on the continent though, which has see them lose three of their last five matches, with the only win in that run coming against Twente. They will know an away goal would be a massive boost for them heading back to France, however, it is also key that they do not concede too many in the Ukraine. Certainly they have the fire-power up front to trouble the home team, but despite having never been beaten at home by French opposition, Shakhtar will be confident heading into the clash.
Apr 5 Metalurh Zaporizhya 1-0 Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukrainian Premier League)
Mar 22 Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 Vorskla Poltava (Ukrainian Premier League)
Mar 19 Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 CSKA Moscow (UEFA Cup)
Mar 15 Metalist Kharkiv 0-3 Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukrainian Premier League)
Mar 12 CSKA Moscow 1-0 Shakhtar Donetsk (UEFA Cup)
Apr 5 St Etienne 0-3 Marseille (Ligue 1)
Mar 21 Marseille 2-0 Nantes (Ligue 1)
Mar 18 Ajax 2-2 Marseille (UEFA Cup)
Mar 15 PSG 1-3 Marseille (Ligue 1)
Mar 12 Marseille 2-1 Ajax (UEFA Cup)
The home side decided to rest many of their first team players in the league at the weekend so they will have nearly a full squad heading into this encounter.
Mircea Lucescu has been keen to alter his tactics this season but against Marseille he should stick with both Luiz Adriano and Olexandr Gladkiy, rather than just a lone striker.
Probable Line-Up (4-4-2): Pyatov – Srna, Kucher, Ischenko, Rat – Ilsinho, Duljaj, Lewandowski, Fernandinho – Adriano, Gladkiy
The French team will be without both Sylvain Wiltord and Brandao for the game, as they signed from Rennes and Shakhtar respectively in the winter transfer window.
The good news is that they will welcome back Boudewijn Zenden, who did not play at the weekend but should be fit after recovering from a calf injury. Karim Ziani and Laurent Bonnart are still ruled out for OM.
Probable Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Mandanda – Mears, Rodriguez, Hilton, Taiwo – Cana, Cheyrou – Kone, Valbuena, Zenden - Niang
PLAYER TO WATCH
Despite being a Ukrainian side, Shakhtar have plenty of Brazilian influence in their team and one of the most promising players at their disposal is Luiz Adriano. Since joining from Internacional the striker has found the net on plenty of occasions and he could well be key to unlocking the French defence on Thursday evening.
Mamadou Niang is the top scorer for Marseille in Europe this season and with his physical presence and eye for goal he is likely to give Shakhtar problems at the back. Playing up front he can either act as a lone striker and hold the ball up, or he can drop deeper and link up with the other forwards, which makes him a valuable asset for Gerets.
Marseille come into this match in better form domestically than their hosts but in the Ukraine they are likely to have their work cut out. Their 2-0 wins over both Tottenham and CSKA at home showed that Shakhtar are a force to be reckoned with and they should take a lead for the second-leg on Thursday evening.
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 Marseille