Mircea Lucescu has underlined the importance of making a good start as FC Shakhtar Donetsk prepare to meet a Celtic FC side who are an improving force away from home.
FC Shakhtar Donetsk coach Mircea Lucescu has underlined the importance of making a good start to the group stage, yet his charges could have their work cut out against a Celtic FC side determined to improve their away record in Europe.
Shakhtar approach the match on the back of eight straight victories in the Ukrainian Premier League, and Lucescu is keen for that form to continue on the European stage at the expense of the Scottish champions – whom they beat 3-0 at home in October 2004. "We need a good start to the group stage," said the Romanian, whose team hope to make it through to the knockout phase for the first time in what is their third UEFA Champions League campaign. "Celtic are stronger than three years ago when we last met in the Champions League, but so are we.
"Celtic and Shakhtar have differing styles. Celtic are physically strong and well organised; they run from the first whistle until the very last, just like Gordon Strachan did in his playing days. We are more technical and it will be a battle of styles," continued Lucescu, who singled out the visitors' defence, and their goalkeeper in particular, for praise. "Celtic are better than us in defence, and if I could pick one player who I don't really want to play then it has to be Artur Boruc."
The hosts will be without the banned Dmytro Chygrynskiy at the RSC Olympiyskiy Stadium, with the captain's armband going to Darijo Srna. Celtic manager Strachan has problems of his own after Steven Pressley underwent back surgery. Like Shakhtar, the former Manchester United FC midfielder's side lead their domestic league having scored five goals in each of the last three fixtures; yet the manager is more focused on the opposition's attacking prowess: "I don't know how dangerous Shakhtar will be but they have the potential to be very dangerous. That said, if we play this tie like the [FC] Spartak [Moskva] one [in the third qualifying round], we should give a good account of ourselves."
Celtic defeated Spartak on penalties to seal their progress last month, a triumph set up by a 1-1 away draw, though success on the road has often eluded them. The Glasgow club have claimed one point from their last 12 away games in the group stage and, understandably perhaps, Strachan is keen to look forward. "It took Milan more than 100 minutes to score against us [in the last 16 last season] and we had a good match at Spartak," he said. "I can't account for all Celtic teams but I think we've improved over the last couple of years. I would say most sides in the Champions League have a better home record than away record. All we can do is concentrate on our form – our side of the equation."