Manchester City begin their UEFA Champions League campaign with a trip to Ukraine where they face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third season in a row.
Shakhtar Donetsk might not have had much success against Manchester City when they faced Pep Guardiola’s men in the last two editions of the Champions League. This time, however, the Ukrainians come into this game in a rich vein of form after winning their previous seven games in a row, something that might give them hope of an upset.
But Shakthar had to work hard last time out against Zorya Luhansk and depend on a last-minute winner from Junior Moraes. This might have given Luis Castro something to think about his team’s setup when they face the formidable Manchester City.
Premier League champions Manchester City, on the other hand, come into this game on the back of a rare league defeat at the hands of newly-promoted Norwich City. That defeat has left City five points behind league leaders Liverpool, and Pep Guardiola will now want a stern response from his team in the Champions League.
In the Champions League itself, Guardiola has seen his side crash out in the quarter-finals in each of the last two seasons. This time, however, the Manchester City manager will want his team to set the tempo right from the get-go. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Shakhtar Donetsk have a few injuries to key players to contend with. Davit Khotcholava, Maycon, Aleksander Pihalenok and Andriy Totovytskyi are all sidelined with injuries. Taison, meanwhile, is a significant doubt to be involved in the side. The Brazilian has been able to play in only one of the last two games and him missing out will be a blow for the home side.
Castro is expected to make only minor changes to his team from the last game. Yevhen Konoplyanka could possibly come into the side to replace Tete on the right side of the Shakhtar Donetsk attack, although Marlos should get the nod. Castro could also bring Viktor Kovalenko back into the team, with the Ukrainian starting in the no. 10 slot vacated by Marlos.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Pyatov; Bolbat, Matvyenko, Kryvtsov, Ismaily; Patrick, Stepanenko; Marlos, Kovalenko, Taison; Moraes
Unlike Luis Castro, Pep Guardiola will be looking to make some necessary changes to his side for the Champions League opener. The first order of business would be to recall Kevin De Bruyne back into the starting lineup after the Belgian playmaker from the bench against Norwich.
Additionally, the Manchester City boss will take this game as an opportunity to shuffle his side a bit and give out chances to some of the players who are yet to feature regularly. Benjamin Mendy could be in line for his first start in a long time, having recovered from his persistent knee problems.
On the opposite flank, there could be a start for Joao Cancelo, as Guardiola might look to give Kyle Walker a breather. David Silva could also be taken off the lineup, with De Bruyne starting in his place, while Bernardo Silva will likely come back in midfield.
In Bernardo Silva’s place, Riyad Mahrez could make a start, while free-scorers Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero should keep their places in the side. Going back to defence, Guardiola might look to continue with Nicolas Otamendi, while Fernandinho could be preferred to partner him at the heart of the Manchester City defence, with John Stones sidelined with injury.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ederson; Cancelo, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Mendy; Bernardo Silva, Rodri, De Bruyne; Mahrez, Aguero, Sterling
- This is the third successive season in which Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk have been drawn in the same group of the UEFA Champions League – the first time that two teams have been drawn in the same group in three successive editions of the competition since Real Madrid and Ajax were in 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13.
- Manchester City have won three of their previous four UEFA Champions League meetings with Shakhtar Donetsk (L1) and have outscored their Ukrainian opponents by 12-2.
- Shakhtar Donetsk have lost only two of their last 18 home matches in Europe (W11 D5), although they have not won any of the last four. They have not kept a clean sheet in any of the last nine.
- Manchester City scored the most goals (30) and had the best shot conversion rate (17%) in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League.
- Manchester City have won eight of their last 15 European matches, home and away (D1 L6). Away from home it is four wins in seven matches (D1 L2), with both the losses coming in England.
Player to Watch
The English forward has had a scintillating start to his domestic season, scoring five goals in as many games so far. The fleet-footed winger will now have the perfect opportunity to start his UEFA Champions League campaign on a similar note. Sterling has proven himself in the Premier League this season and the last two seasons as well, but it is time for him to step up in Europe.
He can be Manchester City’s main man in the competition this time around, and as they familiar opponents in Shakhtar Donetsk, Sterling will be looking to bounce back from a rare failure in strong fashion. Will he begin the Champions League campaign in style?
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Manchester City
Shakhtar Donetsk sure have the form factor favouring them entering into this clash with Manchester City, but the Premier League champions are a dangerous side hungry for success. Barring a surprise from the Ukrainians, City should have the upper hand in this game, and they will dominate proceedings right from the first whistle.
Shakhtar, despite their recent meetings with City, will find that this season’s side is very different in terms of intensity and end-product compared to the last two seasons. Manchester City have the scorers, the precision and the hunger to do more in the Champions League this term. The Hard Tackle predicts Pep Guardiola & co. to edge the tie by a decent or narrow margin.