It’s been more than eight months since Shakhtar Donetsk’s 3-0 loss against Atalanta in the deciding Champions League clash that saw the Ukrainians drop into the Europa League. Now Luis Castro’s men are preparing for another Nerazzurri battle, as their semi-final against Inter gives Shakhtar the chance to avenge the heavy Atalanta defeat.
Although the Ukrainians cannot be taken lightly, probably every Inter fan was happy when it became clear that La Beneamata’s next opponent in the Europa League would not be Manchester United or Sevilla. Shakhtar simply do not possess the individual quality of the Premier League giants, while nobody comes even close to Sevilla’s mojo in the competition.
However, Inter must be extremely careful, as Shakhtar are one of those teams that can beat anyone on the day and this is exactly what their semi-final will be, a one-off. It will be Inter’s third one-legged tie in the Europa League since the beginning of August, which should give them a slight advantage over Shakhtar, who played only Basel in this format.
The 4-1 victory against the Swiss vice-champions was arguably the perfect example of Shakhtar’s attacking brilliance, as the Brazilian flair of the likes of Marlos, Taison, Alan Patrick, Marcos Antonio and Junior Moraes is undoubtedly the Ukrainians’ strongest weapon. The experience of Marlos and Taison on the wings is most often what makes the difference, as the creativity of both veterans is what their top goalscorer Junior Moraes feeds off.
Moraes scored twice against Basel, which increased his tally of the season to 26 goals in all competitions, but the truth is anyone in the Shakhtar attack is capable of making the difference. Taison has netted 11 times, Marlos 14 and Patrick nine, so the Nerazzurri backline cannot afford to lose focus even for a minute.
Another strong side of this Shakhtar team is their ability to ride out the storm and stay in the game even when they are outplayed by the opposition. There were similar stretches in the Basel game during which the Swiss side created plenty of troubles for Shakhtar, but Luis Castro’s men didn’t concede a goal and then unleashed their attack, which resulted in four goals in quick succession. Shakhtar only conceded once at the end of the game when they had a 4-0 lead and had already wrapped up their qualification for the next stage.
The games against Atalanta can also give us a hint of how sneaky this Shakhtar team can be, as La Dea completely dominated in their first game played at San Siro, but failed to extend their early 1-0 lead. This eventually allowed Shakhtar to come back and score two late goals to secure an impressive 2-1 victory against Gian Piero Gasperini’s men.
Atalanta’s 3-0 win over the Ukrainians in the final game of their Champions League group, however, shows how Inter can should approach this. Unlike the first meeting, La Dea managed to increase their lead a few minutes after the opener. This simply didn’t give Shakhtar the chance to go back into the game and allowed Atalanta to fully impose their style and eventually score a third goal.
Considering that earlier in the season, Inter’s intensity and quality was dropping significantly in the second half with more points fumbled from leading situations than any other Serie A side, Antonio Conte’s men should rely on a strong start against Shakhtar. This is something that worked for Inter in their previous Europa League clashes, as five of their last six goals in the competition were scored in the first half. La Beneamata won all of those games, as neither Ludogorets, Getafe, nor Bayer Leverkusen were able to comeback after trailing at the break against Inter.
On the other hand Shakhtar rarely manage to get back into games when they trail, so Inter’s attacking mechanisms and Romelu Lukaku’s presence will be crucial once again. However, what’s even more important for Inter’s chances is a strong start that will give them control of the game and the opportunity to once again participate in a European final for the first time since their Treble-winning campaign in 2010.