Shakhtar samba beat can keep Barca on toes
Published 06/04/2011 | 05:00
Barcelona host Shakhtar Donetsk at the Nou Camp tonight in buoyant mood, but they will underestimate the opposition at their peril.
Shakhtar lack the prestige of Dynamo Kiev, but thanks to deep investment from billionaire Rinat Akhmetov they have won the Ukrainian title in four of the last six years and lifted the UEFA Cup in 2009.
Their success owes much to an imaginative recruitment strategy. Shakhtar have imported some of the best young talents from Brazil, building a community of young players which makes it easier to attract more.
Luiz Adriano, signed from Internacional, is a ruthless 23-year-old centre-forward who scored in the UEFA Cup final victory over Werder Bremen.
Behind him lies an array of typically gifted midfielders. Willian, bought from Corinthians, is a stocky wide player with great footwork, while Jadson recently made his Brazil debut.
The jewel, though, is Douglas Costa. It is a sign of Shakhtar's development that they beat Manchester United to his signature from Gremio last year. The 20-year-old winger was the star of their 3-2 win at Roma in the last 16, coming in from the right on his left foot to score a beautiful first-half goal.
Shakhtar have shaken Barca before. They won 3-2 at the Nou Camp in 2008 -- albeit against a much-changed home side -- and they pushed the Catalans all the way in the final of the 2009 UEFA Super Cup before going down to a Pedro Rodriguez goal in the 115th minute.
Barca will be hoping that David Villa rediscovers his scoring touch. Although he recently became Spain's record goalscorer with a brace against the Czech Republic, he has not found the back of the net in his last six outings for the club, having previously struck in four successive matches and notched 21 goals since his big-money summer move from Valencia.
Barcelona v Shakhtar Donetsk,
Live, Sky Sports 2, 7.45