Many will look at this match as one of the more one-sided in the round, and it is quite possible that Bayern Munich will simply run wild over the Ukrainians. Consider for a moment, however, that Bayern do have some weakness and this is a Shakhtar team made up of 17 Brazilians who would love nothing more than to enact revenge for their drubbing at the hand of the Germans this summer.
Shakhtar are big underdogs, there’s no two ways to say it. Having eliminated Athletic Bilbao and BATE Boris in the group stage, they have certainly drawn an unfavorable first opponent. Their manager, Mircea Lucescu, is hoping for his men to emerge as “heroes”, and he’ll need a heroic performance for sure if his team is to advance.
The team makeup is a mix of Ukrainian and Brazilian, with a bulk of the South American blood in attack. This allows Shakhtar speed and agility up front, and a strong base from which to work with. Brazilian talent includes Bernard, who was on the field for the 7-1 drubbing this summer, and Luiz Adriano, who scored a tournement-high 9 goals in the group stage, so they are not to be taken too lightly.
Shakhtar likes to counter-attack, and most of their goals come from open play. They are susceptible to possession-based passing teams, and are usually outshot, so their ability to hold the fort will be key to their chances, and if they can spring the counter they might have a chance.
Besides being heavily favored to win, Bayern are one of the most liked teams in this years knockout stage. With manager Pep Guardiola working to make the team more posession-oriented, the Germans have been largely lethal this year and won their group stage easily.
Arjen Robben, the Ironclad captain, seems to have been reborn this year. With 14 goals so far in the Bundesliga campaign, he has been largely on the end of strong work from Thomas Müller, who has 7 assists to go along with 9 goals of his own. With new addition Xabi Alonso at pivot, the riches of attack can flow wide or straight up the middle depending on the defensive formation.
Bayern will give up chances, and will need to beware the counter against a team like Shaktar. They’re not especially good in the air, but the challenge will not likely be in set pieces, but instead in open play where they will likely face blistering speed and impressive runs.
It will be important for Shakhtar to not give up the early lead. This year, Bayern has been one of the best teams at keeping a lead once it has been obtained, and as more of Pep’s possession-oriented tactics come to play, they are starting to develop the Barcelona-esce ability to tire teams out from chasing the ball.
Bayern will likely face a team that will park the bus against them, putting 10 men behind the ball in an attempt to clog up passing lanes and deny their attempts to get clear shots in front of goal. Bayern likes to play on the wings, so the amount to which they can spread the back line of Shakhtar should affect their ability to get in front and score.
While we all love a great story of redemption this isn’t the Brazilian team, but a Ukrainian team clinging to hopes of heroics. Bayern comes in fresh off of a 8-0 win in their league play, and seem to be firing on all cylinders.
I expect a Bayern win in both stadia, with an aggregate total of 5-1.