By Andrew McLean
Roma may have a new coach for their trip to Ukraine in the Champions League second leg tie against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday night, but the task facing Vincenzo Montella and his men to overcome a 3-2 deficit is a daunting one. Mr. Montella, welcome to the Donbass Arena.
Shakhtar Donetsk have never lost a game at the Donbass Arena since its grand opening in August 2009. The Moles lost a mere one game all last season on the road domestically and this season they have won all 10 home games, conceding just two goals in the process. To make matters worse for Roma, Shakhtar's unbeaten home record actually extends back to October 22, 2008 when they lost to Sporting 1-0 in the Champions League.
Montella will need to travel as far back as April 2008 to find when the Miners last lost in the league, to the Sailors from Odessa 1-0, and since that time Shakhtar's only blemish on home soil was drawing 0-0 with Dnepr Dnepropetrovsk last season. This season Mircea Lucescu’s men impressively finished top of their group in the Champions League, seeing off Arsenal, Braga and Partizan to collect maximum points at the Donbass Arena.
It seems like months have passed since former coach Claudio Ranieri sent his Roma XI out on to the Stadio Olimpico pitch on February 16, a night in which they were expected by many to secure a substantial advantage to progress to the quarter-finals; Arsenal certainly proved this possible in the group stages with a 5-1 victory over Lucescu's men at the Emirates, but can Roma on current form be compared to Gunners?
The first leg result suggests not and it wasn't just losing but the manner of defeat that will be a concern for Montella as he tries to rally his troops. What the Miners produced that night in the Italian capital will firmly be embedded in the minds of the Roma players, if not Montella; who was a part of the Roma team that lost to Shakhtar 1-0 back in 2006. The coach knows exactly what he is up against tonight in chilly eastern Europe.
It was not just a performance to behold from the Ukrainian league leaders but showed a positive attitude and determination to conquer Rome, when many teams would have been happy to sit back and opt for damage limitation. Lucescu’s men came from a goal behind to rip Roma’s defence to shreds before they could re-group at half-time trailing 3-1. Jeremy Menez’s goal restored some pride for the Romans but the result set the ball rolling for Ranieri's departure just five days later.
Lucescu has gradually built a team, a unit and a machine since taking over Donetsk in 2004 and while the Brazilian members of the Kroty, Jadson, Douglas Costa and Luiz Adriano, the goal scorers in Rome, steal many of the headlines, the unsung heroes of the side are the ones who hold the unit of Shakhtar together, allowing the Samba stars to dazzle in attack.
Dmitriy Chygrynskiy made a name for himself with a short but unsuccessful spell at Barcelona before returning to the Donbass region last summer, but his parter Yaroslav Rakitskiy now has the potential to begin attracting some of Europe’s biggest clubs. The 21-year-old has formed a platform with Chygrynskiy, still only 24 years old himself, which has been impenetrable for the past eight months. Lucescu compliments his ever growing band of hot prospects with the experience of the likes of Razvan Rat and club captain Darijo Srna, and the side are now reaping the benefits.
Additions to the squad such as Eduardo, who has rebuilt his career since the horrific tackle suffered during his time with Arsenal, summed up the task that will await Roma when they walk out on to the pitch at the Donbass Arena.
"It's a tradition [that Shakhtar never lose], it gives us extra motivation," the hitman told Goal.com.
Still think it's mission possible?
1) Roma have only won by two clear goals on the road twice all season, the same amount of times Shakhtar have seen the ball drop in their net in 10 league games.
2) Shakhtar have won the last five times they have taken a lead from the first leg back to the Donbass Arena.
3) Shakhtar have scored in every game during this season's Champions League.
4) Roma haven't kept a clean sheet in this season's Champions League.
5) The last time Shakhtar conceded twice and lost at home was against Barcelona in 2008, the Miners lost 2-1 when Lionel Messi scored in the 87th and 90th minute.Finally, the last ever winners of the formerly titled Uefa Cup in 2009 are on the verge of qualifying for the quarter-finals of Europe’s most prestigious tournament for the first time. Or is it mission possible for Roma and Montella?