With Group A perfectly poised, Leverkusen sit in third with three points and Shakhtar in second with four, the crucial nature of this clash was not underestimated by Werkself goalkeeper Bernd Leno, “home games are very, very important in the Champions League”.
'Move more and pass better'
Sitting next to Leno, and full of praise for the 21-year-old custodian was Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypiä, who was, however, keen for his side to improve upon their 2-1 win against Real Sociedad de Futbol last time out. “We were nervous with the ball sometimes, we have to move more and pass better,” explained the Finn. That will not be the easiest of tasks against the high-pressing, committed Ukrainian champions, however.
“Shakhtar have five, six players from South America,” added Hyypiä, who won the competition with Liverpool FC in 2005. “I think they are better when they attack”. Leno will perhaps then be busy, and the youngster, who has saved two of three penalties this season, pointed out that, “South Americans are technically always very good”.
Hyypiä on top
Hyypiä did note, however, that, “[Shakhtar] have problems when they have to defend. Their style is always the same - at home or away. We have to be well prepared and try to benefit from their offensive play so that we have more attacking players than they have defenders”. Indeed, Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu has headaches defensively as former FC Barcelona man Dmytro Chygrynskiy is out, which is likely to result in a makeshift back four.
Lucescu, whose last visit to Germany resulted in a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Leverkusen’s title rivals Borussia Dortmund, viewed the game as, “probably our most important in the group stage,” and the fact it is away from home is far from ideal considering Leverkusen have an unbeaten home record against Ukrainian opposition in Europe.
Bender out, Boenisch in?
Hyypiä will be hoping to extend that streak, but will have to do so without key midfielder Lars Bender. The clash has come too early for the 24-year-old midfielder who is attempting to return from a muscle strain. Full-back Sebastien Boenisch, who lost to Donetsk in the 2009 UEFA Cup final with Werder Bremen, should return though, and it will be he or Emre Can who are charged with stopping Donetsk captain Darijo Srna’s dangerous surges down the right flank.
One of Donetsk’s plethora of South Americans stars, midfielder Fernando, is wary of the threat Leverkusen pose. “They’re an incredibly fast team,” said the Brazilian. “We know that we will have to work hard. Moreover, we are playing away from home”. That home strength is something Leverkusen will have to rely on against the improving Ukrainians, but for Hyypiä in such a tight, vital clash, the “little things will be essential”.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Toprak, Spahic, Can - Castro, Reinartz, Rolfes - Sam, Kießling, Son
FC Shakhtar Donetsk: Pyatov - Srna, Kucher, Rakytskyy, V. Shevchuk - Fernando, Hübschman - Taison, Alex Teixeira, Douglas Costa - Luiz Adriano
Catch Bernd Leno's miraculous penalty save in the 2-1 win against Hoffenheim on Matchday 9 courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: