Real Madrid will aim to strengthen their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages when they play Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League this week.

Matchday four of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League continues on Wednesday night, and record winners of the competition, Real Madrid, will be in action when they take on Shakhtar Donetsk in a Group D encounter at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The 2021/22 campaign has been a mixed bag of sorts for Real Madrid, who have had some very good results interspersed with some poor outcomes. Carlo Ancelotti’s men started their European campaign with a hard-fought win over Inter Milan but were then handed a shock loss by minnows Sheriff Tiraspol. However, Los Blancos bounced back with a thumping 5-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk last month.

Real Madrid are currently second in their group, level on points with surprise leaders Sheriff, but behind due to head-to-head record. Heading into Wednesday’s game, they are on a four-game unbeaten run in all competitions and beat Elche 2-1 in their last game. Ancelotti will hope that his team carry the momentum forward and take a step towards qualification for the knockout stages.

Meanwhile, Shakhtar Donetsk remain rooted to the bottom of Group D in the Champions League, having managed to collect just one point from three games – courtesy of a draw against Inter Milan. Roberto De Zerbi’s men were played out of the park by Sheriff Tiraspol and Real Madrid in their remaining couple of games, and the manager will be hoping for a better display from his troops this week.

The Ukrainian giants have reacted well to the 5-0 hammering from Real Madrid with handsome wins against Vorskla, Chornomorets Odesa and more recently versus Desna, scoring nine goals in this run while letting in just one. A win in Spain would put Shakhtar back into the mix for qualification to the next round, but another defeat would spell doom for them.

Ahead of this exciting match-up coming our way from the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Real Madrid

Real Madrid have been boosted by the return of star striker Karim Benzema who missed the weekend La Liga clash with an injury. However, Rodrygo Goes has been sidelined after he picked up an injury in the win against Elche, while Mariano Diaz also misses out for the home team. Gareth Bale and Dani Ceballos also continue to remain unavailable for selection.

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti will set his team up in a 4-3-3 formation against Shakhtar, with Thibaut Courtois manning the goal. The Belgian will be shielded by the centre-back pairing of David Alaba and Eder Militao, while Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy slot in as the two full-backs for the Merengues, trying to get forward at every given opportunity.

Casemiro will be holding down the fort in the centre of the park, allowing Luka Modric and Toni Kroos the freedom to create chances and control the tempo with their incisive forward passes. Eduardo Camavinga will be an option from the bench for the manager should he need to change things up.

Up top, the returning Benzema is a shoo-in, while Vinicius Junior’s red-hot form makes him a guaranteed starter as well. With Rodrygo’s injury and Marco Asensio’s blow-hot-blow-cold form, Lucas Vazquez may end up getting the nod on the right flank. However, Eden Hazard is also an option that Ancelotti might consider.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Vazquez, Benzema, Vinicius

Shakhtar Donetsk

Shakhtar Donetsk will have to make do without the services of three players as Pedrinho, Lassina Traore, and Yevhen Konoplyanka miss out with injury issues. Roberto De Zerbi will set his team out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, focusing on trying to force quick turnovers and hit Real Madrid at a brisk pace.

Veteran goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov could be in for a busy night in goal if Real Madrid are in the same mood as the reverse fixture. Marlon Santos and Mykola Matvienko will be the two centre-halves for the Ukrainian giants flanked by the full-backs, Dodo and Ismaily. The full-back duo will be tasked with providing the width going forward, but given the form that Vinicius Junior is in, Dodo will have his hands full.

Taras Stepanenko will provide further protection to the backline, trying to keep a lid on the output of Luka Modric from midfield. He will have Maycon as his partner, who will essay a box-to-box role, while Alan Patrick will be slotting in as the No. 10 looking to pierce open the Real Madrid defence and provide a goal threat as well.

Tete and Manor Solomon will carry the threat from the wide areas and look to make the most of any spaces left behind by the hosts’ full-backs. Spearheading the attack will be Fernando, hoping to get the better of the Real Madrid centre-halves.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Pyatov; Dodo, Santos, Matvienko, Ismaily; Maycon, Stepanenko; Tete, Patrick, Solomon; Fernando

Key Stats

  • The previous five games between Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk have seen a total of 23 goals scored, at an average of 4.6 per game. Indeed Los Blancos have scored at least four goals in all three of their victories against Shakhtar in the competition.
  • Real Madrid have averaged three goals per game against Shakhtar Donetsk in UEFA Champions League.
  • Heading into Matchday 4, Shakhtar Donetsk remain just one of three yet to score a goal in the UEFA Champions League this season.
  • Real Madrid have lost three of their last eight home games in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League (W3 D2), including their most recent one against Sheriff Tiraspol.
  • Shakhtar’s Tete scored and assisted in a 3-2 win in his previous Champions League game away at Real Madrid (October 2020). Since then, the Brazilian has not scored or assisted a goal in eight appearances in the competition.

Player to Watch

Karim Benzema

The top guy for Real Madrid. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

The top guy for Real Madrid. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

The man in form for Real Madrid this season, along with Vinicius Junior, Benzema was in fine nick when Los Blancos took on Shakhtar Donetsk, scoring and assisting one goal apiece. The 33-year-old has a tally of 11 goals and eight assists from 13 games in all competitions.

In addition, Benzema has scored ten goals in his last ten home appearances in the UEFA Champions League and has only failed to find the back of the net in one of the most recent six. His form, understanding and partnership with Vinicius Junior in the final third will be key to Real Madrid’s chances against Shakhtar on Wednesday.

Prediction

Real Madrid 3-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Real Madrid tore Shakhtar Donetsk to shreds the last two times these sides met. And, with Karim Benzema back in contention after missing the weekend clash, Carlo Ancelotti’s men could once again put their visitors to the sword, despite the Ukrainian giants being in good nick. The Hard Tackle expects a comfortable win for the Merengues at the Bernabeu, strengthening their chances of progressing to the next round.

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