When Roma were paired with the Ukranian side during Monday’s Champions League draw it brought about mixed feelings. For one, it was relief at not being drawn with the two unseeded heavyweights; Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Yet I would’ve been happier with a few of the other potential candidates. My thought process was, Well that could’ve gone better but it also could’ve gone a lot worse.
For those of us who haven’t been able to eradicate the name from our collective Giallorosso memories; Shakhtar Donetsk evokes nightmarish scenes from Champions League past. Roma have a short history with the Ukranian side but an ugly one at that. The Giallorossi have one win and three loses in four UCL matches against Shakhtar. With two of those loses coming in the humiliating 2010/11 Round of 16 debacle that I was alluding to earlier. In that tie Roma lost both legs amounting to an aggregate score of...drum roll please...6-2.
Don’t get me wrong, seven years is an eternity in football terms. There is so much turnover these days that few current Roma players may even know what happened the last time these teams met without a gentle reminder from the media. However, my point is, although Roma may be the superior side in terms of talent, they must go into this home-and-home confident but not arrogant. Otherwise they may not continue playing Champions League football into the spring.
Shakhtar had a strong group stage finishing with 4 wins and 12 points to finish second in Group F. This was three points behind group winners Manchester City but a comfortable six points ahead of Serie A side Napoli. That’s no small feat when you consider the impressive season Napoli have had in Serie A thus far.
Here’s a brief rundown of Shakhtar’s group stage results.
- vs Napoli W2-1
- @ Manchester City L2-1
- @ Feyenoord W2-1
- vs Feyenoord W3-1
- @ Napoli L3-0
- vs Manchester City W2-1
Upon closer inspection of Shakhtar’s results it becomes abundantly clear that this match up could become a tale of two cities. In the group stage Shakhtar made the most of their home matches; finishing with a perfect three wins and nine points. Meanwhile, on the road they were rather pedestrian finishing with one win and two loses.
Playing in Eastern Europe is always difficult with the huge distance that teams must travel for a midweek fixture. However, playing there in late February adds another variable to the mix. The weather could also be a factor. Frigid temperatures can make the hostile environment even more uncomfortable and the seeming newfound mental toughness that Roma displayed in their match at Chelsea could be put to the test.
In order to survive and potentially thrive in this tricky match up Roma can’t afford a result similar to Napoli’s defeat in Ukraine. The Giallorossi can ill afford to fall in Ukraine and be forced to play catch up at home. Roma’s road performance against a team which seems to have such a profound home field advantage will be one of the key’s to them progressing. If they can manage a goal scoring draw or win in Ukraine then they should have a feel confident about finishing the job at the Olimpico.
Roma will have to spoil Shakhtar’s home cooking and remember that revenge is a dish best served cold.