Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Manchester United: Key Battles the Visitors Must Win
Shakhtar haven’t been their formidable selves in the Ukrainian Premier League this season. They sit third place in the table, six points off the lead, and they have won just one of their past five league matches.
In the opening 11 games of the season, Shakhtar’s defence has shipped 11 goals and they have dropped 10 points, which, as Goal.com points out, is just one less than they let slip on their way to winning a fourth consecutive title last year.
As the Mirror reported on Tuesday, Shakhtar boss Mircea Lucescu blamed Manchester United’s worst start to the season in 24 years on David Moyes’ tinkering, but the veteran coach has also engaged in some chopping and changing of his own after losing both Fernandinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan over the summer.
Both teams’ starting XIs are difficult to predict, but despite who lines up Manchester United will know they have a challenge on their hands against a side who have never lost at home to English opposition in the Champions League.
Here’s a look at the key battles United must win in order to secure victory in the Ukraine.
With Robin van Persie set to return for the visitors and Wayne Rooney rediscovering his form, United’s strike partnership looks set in stone, but they will need support from the wings in order to thrive in Donetsk.
Manchester United are famed for their great wing play down the years, but consistency in that area has been lacking this season. Moyes has deployed Antonio Valencia, Shinji Kagawa, Ashley Young, Nani, Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj out wide in recent times, and he will need two of that group to step up and make the position their own.
Whichever two start against Shakhtar they will need to come out with a point to prove. With two world class forwards upfront, United need their wingers providing a consistent service from out wide if they are to grab all three points and kick start a winning run.
Against West Bromwich Albion at the weekend Manchester United’s midfield offered little support to the back four. Too often a simple bit of skill or a threaded pass exposed the gap between the midfielders and the defenders.
Shakhtar’s attacking threat in their opening fixture came from Alex Teixeira, whose performance against Sociedad was rewarded with two goals. United will need to stifle this threat from midfield before the Brazilian has a chance to charge at the back four.
When Marouane Fellaini joined the club on transfer deadline day he expressed his desire to play a more defensive role in midfield than the one he was deployed in at Everton. Moyes needs someone to excel in that position sooner rather than later, and Fellaini could be his answer.
Starting with the game in Donetsk.
At the Back
Shakhtar’s Brazilian players offer them some creative flair going forward, and United will need to do a better job at the back than they did in their last two Premier League defeats.
Too often at the weekend Alex Buttner roamed too far forward, forcing Jonny Evans out of position to cover the left-back when the attack broke down and Buttner failed to track back.
The expected return of Patrice Evra should go some way to helping out against Shakhtar, and while Rio Ferdinand remained at home with a groin strain, Nemanja Vidic’s expected return should bring some much-needed steel back into the United defence.
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