Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
You’d imagine someone has probably had a word with those toffee-nosed folk on the door at Harrods and informed them of Shakhtar Donetsk’s arrival at Luton Airport on Sunday evening.
But NMTB wagers Mircea Lucescu won’t be taking the Ukrainian champions souvenir hunting in Knightsbridge, not after his squad was unceremoniously turned away from the famous department store prior to last year’s Europa League tie against Fulham.
Apparently Harrods was too busy, and it definitely wasn’t because their snooty staff didn’t fancy a load of eastern European men in tracksuits wandering round and lowering the tone of the place. Definitely not.
1) Shakhtar arrive in Foggy Albion on a seven-game winning streak
The Hirnyky are quite good at this football business, and have been on more long winning runs than a Kenyan athlete of late, so they're not exactly unaccustomed to the odd victory, but they’ve beaten some half-decent sides recently.
In the Champions League Shakhtar overcame Partizan Belgrade, and what have surprisingly transpired to be Group H’s whipping boys, SC Braga, while domestically Ukraine’s second and third best sides, Dynamo Kyiv and Metalist Kharkiv, have been put to the sword.
Twenty goals have been scored in these seven games with just two conceded, leaving them positioned nicely at the Vyscha Liga’s summit, five points ahead of Dynamo.
2) They haven’t come to park the bus
Mister, as Mircea Lucescu is affectionately known, prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation, and Shakhtar’s intricate passing game isn't a million miles away from that of Arsene Wenger’s mob, except the Ukrainians aren’t adverse to the odd shot from distance now and again.
If the Romanian sticks to his principals, this could be a cracking game between two sides who play football the way it should be played.
(Expect NMTB to have jinxed things now, and Mister to go all Gurban Berdiýew on us and opt for a bus-parkingalicious 5-4-1 formation like Rubin Kazan did when Barcelona visited Tatarstan last month.)
Even if Lucescu doesn’t alter things, you’d imagine Răzvan Raţ and Darijo Srna will probably be a bit more reserved and not bomb forward from the full-back positions at every opportunity to support Douglas Costa and Willian out wide, both of whom enjoy drifting inside when they have the ball. Luiz Adriano will lead the line up top.
3) Mircea Lucescu likes a Brazilian (oo-er)
Lucescu clearly subscribes to the stereotype of the Brazilian footballer being one of dizzying skills and quite adept at finding the back of the net, while not being all that hot on the defensive side of things, as his collection of Samba superstars occupy the lion’s share of his team’s attacking positions. Things at the back are looked after by the eastern Europeans.
Brazilians, Lucescu once said, “play football for football.” Seven of them are currently in the Shakhtar squad; eight, if you're a pernickety sod and include Eduardo, and some of them are indeed rather good.
The likes of Douglas Costa and Fernandinho, whom his manager affirms is the best Brazilian defensive midfielder in Europe, would walk into any side in the Premier League. And Lucescu isn’t content with just seven, either.
Shakhtar’s scouts have been back to South America for another look at Santos’ teenage midfielder Alan Patrick, and during their recent training camp in Turkey they were joined by two 16-year-olds from Brazil.
For some reason, Shakhtar’s Brazilian collecting zillionaire owner Rinat Akhmetov was against a cap on foreigners in the Vyscha Liga when the idea was mooted. Can't imagine why…
4) They’ve had their injury problems
Olexiy Gai has performed admirably of late, but he’s no Fernandinho.
Obolon Kyiv were the last side to beat Shakhtar (on 10 September), after deciding that an effective way to stifle Ukraine’s number one team might be to kick them all over the pitch and stop them being able to play.It worked.
Obolon won 1-0 and Fernandinho had his leg broken by Vladyslav Lupashko after being booted six foot in the air. He’ll be a massive loss for Shakhtar.
So enraged were Shakhtar at the dirty challenges meted out to their players, they published a photographic essay on the club’s website of the match’s “deadliest moments”. All 84 of them.
Barcelona flop (not NMTB’s words, Google Instant’s when you begin typing “Dmytro Chygrynskiy”) started his first game since August on Friday after a hamstring injury, a match in which erstwhile one-time target Yaroslav Rakitskiy also returned.
Douglas Costa has been out for the last fortnight after suffering an injury against Dynamo Kyiv, but should play. If not, never mind, there’s another tricky young Brazilian in the form of Alex Teixeira waiting in the wings.
Any more injuries and Mircea will be on the phone to PFC Sevastopol asking for somersaulting ex-Wigan striker Julius Aghahowa back from his loan spell. Actually, things aren’t that desperate. They’ll never be that desperate…
5) Rinat Akhmetov doesn’t like being called an oligarch
Those guys and gals at the Kyiv Post have been playing with their abacuses (abaci?) and worked out that Shakhtar’s president has a cool $9.6 billion in the bank.
The 43-year-old, who is a pals with Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych earned his money in the nineties from the Donbass region’s coal and steel.
Just don’t use the “o” word. Akhmetov took legal action against Le Figaro after they dubbed him "a scandalous Ukrainian oligarch”.
*Quickly checks old blogs*
6) Henrikh Mkhitaryan is quite good
You can tell this Armenian lad is quality because Mircea Lucescu splurged £5 million on an attacking player who isn't Brazilian. The 21-year-old is enjoying himself at the moment; scoring his first Shakhtar goal, making his Champions League debut and he was the architect of Armenia’s recent wins over Slovakia and Andorra.
Oh, and his surname is pronounced Ma-khi-tar-yan, before you ask.
7) Dudu will be on the bench
Unless Lucescu gets all sentimental, Eduardo won’t start tonight on his big return to the Emirates; this won’t stop the media talking about that tackle, mind.
Injury and the general brilliantness of Luiz Adriano on his own up front (seven goals in seven games, thank you very much) have meant Dudu has started life in eastern Ukraine on the bench.
Wigan loanee Marcelo Moreno isn't going to feature in the starting XI either.
8) Răzvan Raţ’s surname isn’t pronounced “Rat”
It’s just a pet peev of the blog’s, but during both games against Fulham, whoever the chap commentating for ITV was continually referred to the Romanian left-back as “Rat”, and then proceeded with some rodent-based puns.
This annoyed NMTB. Lots. It’s not Rat you ******* ****”. It’s ‘Rats’. There’s a ******* cedilla on the “t” you ******* ****. Do some ******* research. Ahem, yes. Next point.
9) The Premier Liga gave Shakhtar an extra day to prepare
The Donetsk derby with Metalurg was shifted to Friday; they could afford to a few players too, mainly because Shakhtar usually do quite well against their cross-city rivals, having won 24 of their 26 encounters and everything.
And despite never getting out of second gear, Shakhtar made it 25/27 with a comfortable 2-0 win.
10) The last time Shakhtar played Arsenal they won 3-0
Although that was back in the 2000/01 Champions League group stages and the only person from either side remaining is Arsene Wenger.
Shakhtar haven’t won on three visits to London, it is worth pointing out.
Probable team (4-2-3-1): Pyatov; Srna, Chygrynskiy, Rakitskiy, Raţ, Hübschman; Gai, Douglas Costa, Mkhitaryan, Willian; Luiz Adriano.
I am an Armenian and i like that you mentioned Mkhitariyan in here. Armenia is not a very good team (obviously) but now that Yura Movsisyan is there, my country is showing some hope.
Check out my soccer blog! Read, follow and comment plz! Digg, furl, reddit, etc. http://theowngoal.blogspot.com. Thanks!!
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