Chelsea Learn the Dangers of Underestimating Shakhtar Donetsk

Ryan BaileyFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2012

DONETSK, UKRAINE - OCTOBER 23:  John Terry (C) of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea at the Donbass Arena on October 23, 2012 in Donetsk, Ukraine.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

The last time John Terry and Ashley Cole set foot in the Donbass Arena, they were part of an England team favoured to beat Euro 2012 hosts Ukraine.

The current Champions League holders may have had a similar expectation of victory when they arrived at Shakhtar Donetsk's 52,000-capacity home for Champions League match day three.

They may even have been preoccupied by the media circus surrounding the contentious return of captain John Terry and his 'Unite Against Racism' armband.

If Chelsea learned one lesson in Ukraine, however, it's that you underestimate Shakhtar Donetsk at your peril.

At times, the current Premier League leaders were made to look amateur by Shakhtar's high-pace, frenetic counter-attacking. At the end of the first half, they were very fortunate to be behind by only one goal, having achieved only 47% of possession and four attempts on goal. Shakhtar, by comparison, had 15 attempts in the opening half.

Chelsea were guilty of some very poor defending, they were never in control of the battle in midfield, and were flattered by a 2-1 scoreline when Oscar found the net in the dying minutes.

The long journey to eastern Ukraine would have been well spent by Roberto Di Matteo's men reading up on some alarming  Shakhtar stats. Shakhtar are unbeaten in 11 months—their last defeat was against Porto in the Champions League on 23 November 2011.

Like Bayern Munich, they maintain a perfect record at the top of their domestic league, having won all 12 matches. In fact, their draw at Juventus Stadium three weeks ago is the first time they have failed to obtain the full three points since March.

English teams have now failed to win in Donetsk in four attempts.  

What is the key to their success? It's almost certainly their boys from Brazil. Goalscorer Alex Texeira and Ferdaninho are two of nine Brazilians in Shaktar's squad, alongside Tottenham transfer-target Willian, striker Luiz Adriano and talented attacking midfielder Douglas Costa.

With it's harsh winters and difficult-to-penetrate eastern European culture, Ukraine may seem an unlikely destination for South Americans to settle down, but the club have a history of importing talent from Brazil, and have worked hard to build a Brazilian community for the players and their families.

Another factor in Shakhtar's recent success is a low staff turnover. Nine players who won the UEFA Cup in 2009 still remain in the squad today. Romanian manager Mircea Lucescu was appointed in May 2004, a month before Jose Mourinho arrives at Stamford Bridge. You would be forgiven for losing track of how many managers Chelsea have had since then.

Shaktar now have a strong chance of progressing to the Group Stage, sitting three points clear at the top of Group E with seven points on the board. Chelsea, meanwhile, will have to view this game as a significant setback in their campaign to defend the European Cup. They sit second in the group only because Juventus slipped up with a 1-1 draw against Nordsjælland, a mistake the Italians are unlikely to repeat in the return fixture.

When the Ukrainians visit Stamford Bridge in two weeks time, Chelsea will need to match the visitors' intensity, and buck their ideas up when it comes to defending. Otherwise, they will be surrendering the Champions League trophy sooner than they might have hoped.