With the final rounds of group fixtures approaching we look why it makes sense for Juventus and Shakhtar to settle for a more cautious approach at Ukraine.When the groups were drawn way back in August, many would have predicted Chelsea and Juventus to be the favourites to progress from a cluster comprising of 3 domestic champions and the European winners.
Juventus, who made their Champions League return this season after being knocked out 4 years ago by Chelsea, looked stronger, better and without a doubt Italy's most convincing team in the competition. After suffering recent setbacks regarding the match fixing scandal that saw manager Antonio Conte banned from the touchline, the Turin club has only built on the success of last season.
Shakhtar Donetsk on the other hand were considered by many as the underdogs of this group. The Ukranian side came into the Champions League unbeaten in all competitions and it was only a late Victor Moses goal at Stamford Bridge on matchday 4 that ended this run.
Mircea Lucescu's side has built on their 2009 UEFA Cup win and taken their game to another level. The side is versatile, quick and has built on their excellent home form. The club has thrived on its healthy mixture of South American flair provided by the likes of Brazilians, Willian and Fernandinho, and European players like Darijo Srna and Yaroslav Rakytskyy, thereby making all the clubs in the Champions League sit up and take notice. Shakhtar have shown they are not a side to crumble under pressure and their stellar performances against Juventus and Chelsea are good examples.
The Ukranian champions sit firmly at the top of the group at 10 points knowing whatever be the result at the Donbass Arena or the game between Chelsea and Nordsjaelland, their side is already through to the Round of 16.
|Shakhtar need only a draw to be confirmed as Group D winners|
Shakhtar come into this game with an impressive home record of 9 wins in as many games scoring 28 times and conceding just 5 and although the club will be without Luiz Adriano, who was banned after the 5-2 win away to FC Nordsjaelland for unsportive behaviour, they still have former Arsenal forward Eduardo da Silva to fill in those boots.
Topping the group has its own advantages for Shakhtar and it will mean avoiding the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16. Lucescu knows he cannot afford to take this game lightly knowing the quality of this Juventus side who have got match winners in every department and their impressive away record in this season's Serie A.
|Lots to ponder for Conte - Do we play for a win or a draw?|
Juventus are well aware that all they need is to avoid defeat to qualify and knowing Shakhtar's excellent home record this season, it makes perfect sense they play for a draw and remain in second place, rather than focusing on topping the group which comes with the risk of getting eliminated because one would not bet against Chelsea not beating the minnows FC Nordsjaelland at Stamford Bridge even in their pathetic form.
Aiming to take the game to Shakhtar would be quite a gamble for Conte, knowing the fact that he prefers a three-man defence which did struggle for a while in the first half against the pace of Eden Hazard, and Oscar in their 3-0 hammering of Chelsea.
They can expect something similar when Shakhtar's potent attacking trio of Willian, Henrik Mkhitaryan, and Alan Teixeira face off against the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci. Willian toyed with the Juventus defense when these two sides met at Turin during Matchday 2 as they moved forward from the start to overwhelm their opponents and Antonio Conte knows that a repeat of that performance may result in Juventus getting eliminated.
Add to that, the suspension of Claudio Marchisio for this game further complicates Conte's task as the Juventus 'Number 8' is key to the Bioncaneri's dominance in midfield. Paul Pogba, Marchisio's natural replacement, will have to work his socks off along with Arturo Vidal to ensure that Fernandinho, Shakhtar's midfield dynamo will have minimal influence on proceedings.
Juventus know they have to take whatever chances come their way because, as seen against Chelsea, Shakhtar are pretty solid at the back when playing at home.
A lot will be at stake come Wednesday night. A fixture that might look as a table topping fixture has many underlying sub-plots it.. A draw would suit both parties and should the game reach the latter stages without any goals as two the teams might prefer to see off the game.
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