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Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk, the two clubs sitting atop Group E, meet in Donetsk on Tuesday in what certainly promises to be a thrilling match.
If either team should win in Ukraine, it will take at least temporary command of the group, so expect the action to be hot and heavy right from the opening whistle.
Both clubs are 1-1-0 and have four points heading into Tuesday’s matchup. Shakhtar beat FC Nordsjælland 2-0 in its opener then tied with Juventus 1-1 while Chelsea drew with Juventus 2-2 in its opener and then shut out FC Nordsjælland 4-0 in Copenhagen.
So the two have had pretty similar results against common opponents.
At +140 favorites (three-way line) against the Blues and 50/1 in the current future books odds (Cantor Gaming), Shakhtar, the defending champions of the Ukrainian Premier League, are certainly nothing to be sneezed at, as was proven by its 25-game match winning streak it ran off before losing to Le Zebre on October 1.
The Miners’ talented cast includes a quartet of Brazilians—midfielders Willian and Fernandinho (teammates with Chelsea’s David Luiz, Ramires and Oscar on the Brazilian national team), Alex Teixeira (seven goals in all competitions) and forward Luiz Adriano (five goals)—as well as Ukrainian defender Răzvan Dincă Raţ—one of the coolest looking and sounding names in all of professional sports—and talented Armenian midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan, who leads the team in scoring this year with 16 goals (14 in Ukrainian Premier League, two in the Champions League).
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In goal, Shakhtar has Andriy Pyatov leading a club that has gone a perfect 12-0-0 to start the league season (38 goals for, 6 goals against) for manager Mircea Lucescu, and this quite simply is a team that doesn’t like to lose—let alone draw—so Chelsea will have to be at its absolute best in The City of a Million Roses.
The host Miners’ remaining Group E schedule after this match includes back-to-back road games at Chelsea (November 7) and at FC Nordsjælland (November 20) followed by its group finale at home in a rematch with defending Serie A champions Juventus (December 5).
Shakhtar is 3-1-0 against English opposition in European competition at Donbass Arena, 12-4-2 in its last 18 home games on the continent (excluding qualifiers) but are 2-3-5 in its last 10 Champions League matches—although unbeaten in the last three.
So put all that in your pipe and smoke it brother. If it fits.
Trendwise for the defending European champions, Chelsea have lost only two of their last 11 away group games and have won five, although the Blues went winless in last year’s group stage on the road.
Chelsea is 5-3-0 in its last eight Champions League matches including May’s thrilling semifinal win at Barcelona and the epic penalty-kick final victory at Bayern Munich earning Roberto Di Matteo & Company the club’s first-ever Champions League triumph.
Like Shakhtar, the Blues are in first place and undefeated (7-1-0) in the league, allowing very few goals (6) thanks to the incredibly consistent play of star Czech goalkeeper Petr Čech.
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Chelsea’s backline will probably see the return of John Terry to his right centre-back position with Luiz to his left. Ashley Cole will likely take his place at left-back once more with Branislav Ivanović holding down the other side of the pitch at right back.
In the holding midfield, advanced midfield and forward spot in the team’s 4-2-3-1 formation, expect Di Matteo to use the same six he started against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday in John Obi Mikel, Ramires; Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar; and Fernando Torres to try to best cope with Shakhtar’s speed.
After Tuesday’s showdown, Chelsea’s remaining group play schedule sees them hooking up with Shakhtar again in a rematch at Stamford Bridge (November 7), traveling to Italy to face Juventus (November 20) and then finishing up in west London against FC Nordsjælland (December 5)
Needless to say, when talking about the Champions League, it definitely won’t be easy.
One good thing is that the only time the Blues will leave London from now until November 3 is this match with Shakhtar, and with back-to-back matches with Manchester United in the EPL (October 28) and the Capital One Cup (October 31) on the not-too-distant horizon, that’s some consolation.
This one should play out with Chelsea continuing to ride the wave of its current success which seems to be starting to run primarily through its advanced midfield and that kinetic combination of its young, new, terrific triad of Hazard, Mata and Oscar.
Expect Mata—who has scored six goals and has seven assists in his last six games—and Oscar, who, like Mata, has scored on both of his two shots on target so far in the Champions League, to continue to amaze the masses and give a glimpse into a new-look Blues side as it develops into that magical tiki-taka vision of passiness team owner Roman Abramovich envisioned a few years ago.
With ball control now the focus, opponents defenses get worn down quicker while their offenses simply see the ball less. This is a formula for victory and the way the Blues have been playing, riding that confidence and momentum and taking them as +190 underdogs seems virtually impossible to pass up here.
BETS: Chelsea +190, Over 2½ Even, Chelsea Pick +115
PREDICTION: Chelsea 2 Shakhtar Donetsk 1