Champions League Group F
Group F already has a winner. Manchester City has clinched the first position as they hold the tiebreaker over Lyon, the only club that can match them with 10 points. The match that matters today is the one that will determine who places second and who will be off to Europa League’s knockout stage.
The Ukrainian champion enters the Champions League during the group stage as a result of Ukraine’s football association being ranked 8th in UEFA (partially based on Shakhtar’s own relative success in previous European competition). They reached the Round of 16 last year after finishing second in their group, and they are hoping for a similar result this year.
Shakhtar is the class of the top Ukrainian league – now known as the Premier League. In 27 seasons, Shakhtar has won the league 11 times (including the past two), as well as 12 second-place finishes. They have also won 12 Ukrainian Cups during the same period. This season, they currently lead the Premier League by seven points over Dynamo Kyiv, having lost only once thus far during the season with a +34 goal differential through 18 matches.
So far in this year’s Champions League, they have compiled five points – a 1-2-2 record – leaving them in third position an a win away from qualifying for the Round of 16 for the second year in a row. They will be hosting the match against Lyon in Kiev, and are hoping that they can improve on their Matchday 2 draw to the same club.
Shakhtar has also faced real-world issues in their travails in Champions League. They were unable to play home matches in Donetsk, as it is in Eastern Ukraine and in the middle of the “war conditions” that are occurring there. This match was moved as well, with the match kicking off from Kiev instead of their temporary home in Kharkiv, as martial law has been declared in parts of Ukraine. Hopefully, this won’t affect a lot of supporters traveling for the match, as Shakhtar needs all the support they can get to get the win they need to advance.
Lyon qualified the Champions League as the third-place finisher in Ligue 1 last season, and are hoping to join their league mates Paris Saint-Germain in the Round of 16. Lyon is back in the competition after missing last season – though they did make it to the Round of 16 in Europa League – and they’d like to make it at least one more round if possible.
Lyon is currently in 4th place in Ligue 1, one point behind Montpellier through 16 matches. PSG is running away with the league right now – they are undefeated through 16 matches (14-2-0) with a +39 goal differential – placing them 16 points ahead of Lyon (and 13 ahead of 2nd place Lille. It seems that all the other French clubs will be chasing PSG the rest of the season, and will hope for second or third to make it back to Champions League next season.
Lyon finds themselves with seven points and the inside track to make it through, though, as mentioned previously, they have to travel to Ukraine for the match. They would have clinched second already had they converted that Matchday 2 draw into a victory, but instead they have to sweat this match out, though they only need another draw to advance.
What to expect
Expect Shakhtar to come out and try to take an early lead in this one, making it difficult for Lyon to get an early goal and coast to the draw. In the earlier matchup, Shakhtar got out to a 2-0 lead, only to have Lyon come back and tie it up with two goals within two minutes of each other. The match was played in Lyon in an empty stadium due to UEFA punishment for crowd behavior during last year’s Europa League. This probably aided Shakhtar, and they will have even more of an advantage in front of a friendly crowd.
Home field advantage is probably why Shaktar is favored to win (50% chance according to FiveThirtyEight). A win would send the Ukrainian club forward, while any other result sees Lyon making it. I usually lean towards the home club in toss-ups like this, and I will do that here, and expect Shakhtar to come away victorious. France – other than PSG – will again disappoint in Champions League, while Ukraine solidifies their spot as a association to be reckoned with… as long as it is Shakhtar.
Until next time…