Denied top spot in UEFA Champions League Group E following a 1-0 home defeat by Juventus on matchday six, FC Shakhtar Donetsk had been the frontrunners in the section, confirming their place in the round of 16 with a game to spare. Mircea Lucescu's team do not have a standout player, but the Ukrainian champions' all-for-one attitude helped them eliminate holders Chelsea FC from the competition.
Story so far
Shakhtar kicked off their campaign in style: they beat FC Nordsjælland comfortably at home, deserved more than a point at Juventus on matchday two, and probably merited a more emphatic winning result than 2-1 in the subsequent visit of Chelsea. The Blues' 3-2 victory in the return fixture in London came by virtue of a last-gasp goal, yet three points in Denmark on matchday five saw Shakhtar through. The home loss to Juventus on 5 December was, however, their fifth match without a clean sheet.
At home against Chelsea, Lucescu's side were so dominant that the European title holders started to look like the kind of team Shakhtar were routinely shredding in the Ukrainian Premier League – where they won their first 15 games of the season. But for Petr Čech's presence, the English outfit might have been swept away entirely, and the manner of the victory – if not the 2-1 scoreline – epitomised Shakhtar's confidence.
Lucescu's Brazilians – not least Willian and Fernandinho – remain central to the Shakhtar machine, but the sheer quality of the performances his established players have put in has been cause for concern for the coach, who knows scouts from Europe's biggest clubs are eyeing his crown jewels. Chelsea had shown interest in Willian last summer, and his list of admirers will only have expanded after his two goals in the 3-2 loss at Stamford Bridge.
Armenia forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan notched Shakhtar's first goals of the group stage, and the 23-year-old's reputation has emerged enhanced from this autumn campaign. However, Lucescu has not experimented much in terms of introducing new players to the squad – he used only 16 players over the six matchdays.
Shakhtar have reached the knockout phase for only the second time, but on the last occasion – in 2010/11 – they made it to the quarter-finals. Can they break new ground this time around?
"When the team are well prepared and ready to do everything on the field, there's no need to adjust to any opponent. We set new goals, and reaching them depends only on ourselves. We reach them relying on our own experience. This experience can be negative as well, but it is still useful to get through it."
Mircea Lucescu talks about his team's philosophy.
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