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Why Shakhtar vs. Dortmund Will Be the UCL Tactical Battle to Watch in Last 16

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07:  Razvan Rat of Shakhtar Donetsk in action during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk at Stamford Bridge on November 7, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJanuary 10, 2017

The UEFA Champions League served up some tasty fixtures for the first knockout stage, but tactically speaking, Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund looks set to be the most intriguing coaching duel of all.

Real Madrid vs. Manchester United will attract the media circus due to the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, while AC Milan vs. Barcelona is one of the oldest battles in the book. Nevertheless, you must make sure you cast your eyes toward the Donbass Arena in February, should you get the chance.

 

Probable shapes, formations

Just one glance at the formations and you can see the number of mismatches. Both sides will line up in their respective 4-2-3-1 shapes, injury permitting, but it won't be a classic stalemate like so many other identical formation battles have been.

 

Flanks

During Shakhtar Donetsk's group games, it became abundantly clear that Mircea Lucescu is still pouring faith into his full-backs.

While he may have adopted the 4-2-3-1 to make sure the touchline battle isn't either won or lost by Razvan Rat and Darijo Srna (like it was with the narrow midfield diamond), he still uses them as important attacking pieces.

To compensate for Srna's particularly adventurous and explosive nature, Lucescu often deploys the workman-like Alex Teixeira on the right side to balance things out.

Srna and Rat have never been shy, so how far will Lucescu push it considering the relative strength of Dortmund's left? Does Rat think he can overcome Marco Reus?

 

Central skill

We saw Dortmund put on an absolute masterclass against Manchester City at the Etihad. Their slick, quick passing techniques were absolutely irresistible.

When a 4-2-3-1 meets a 4-2-3-1, it often encourages slow, laboured play in the midfield areas and slows the tempo of the game right down. Juergen Klopp and Lucescu, however, do things slightly differently.

You can bet that die Schwarzgelben will bring their quick interchangable game to the tie. Meanwhile, if Dortmund look a little too fancy, you can also bet the physical side of Fernandinho will come out to play.

If the Brazilian holding midfielder leaves in January, the Hirnyky could be looking to Henrikh Mkhitaryan to help them break Dortmund's holding midfield pivot.

 

Conclusion

Dortmund are one of the favourites to have a deep run in this tournament, but they drew a very short straw in the round of 16.

They will have been looking at FC Porto, Celtic, Galatasaray and even Milan as favourable ties. A trip to the Ukraine is not an ideal scenario, and Shakhtar have all the tools they need to cause an upset here. If they don't, they'll go out in style.

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