Europa League – Eintracht Frankfurt v Shakhtar Donetsk – Round of 32

Europa League – Eintracht Frankfurt v Shakhtar Donetsk – Round of 32

Next up in our continuing coverage of Europa League is a match between clubs features one of our favorite clubs in the tournament. That club – Shakhtar Donetsk – will be playing Eintracht Frankfurt to continue on what I consider one of the most surprising runs in UEFA history.

The match kicks off from Waldstadion (Commerzbank-Arena) in Frankfurt, Germany, on Thursday, 21 February at 5:55pm GMT (12:55pm EST).

What Happened in Leg 1

Since Shakhtar has been one of my favorite clubs to follow this season, we previewed this match in depth last week, and we were hopeful that their supporters would travel to Kharkiv for their “home” match. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to happen, as the match on Thursday had the third-lowest attendance of the 16 Leg 1 matches, lagging only the BATE-Arsenal match (which people are probably bummed they missed after the home team won in an upset) and the Viktoria Plzen-Dinamo Zagreb match.

Frankfurt struck first, with Martin Hinteregger knocking home a goal in the 7th minute, which was a pretty foreboding start to the action. Luckily, it wasn’t long before Shakhtar was able to equalize, doing so in the 10th minute on a penalty conversion from Marlos. However, not long after, Shakhtar went a man down after Taras Stepanenko was sent off in the 11th minute after receiving his second yellow card, which left me with little hope for a victory, let alone a draw.

But Shakhtar remained strong in spite of the adversity, and made it to the break even at 1-1. It wouldn’t last that long after halftime, with Filip Kostić scoring on a beautiful cross to give Frankfurt the 2-1 lead, and with the man advantage, perhaps the match. But it wouldn’t last, with Shakhtar captain Taison finding the net to equalize in the 67th minute, then holding on for the draw. Not the ideal result, but definitely better than the loss, especially at “home.”

What the Experts are Saying

After the draw – and scoring two goals on the road (which is super important if it comes down to tiebreakers) – Eintracht Frankfurt saw their odds increase by 17%, and are now deemed the favorites (63% chance of advancing per FiveThirtyEight) in the matchup.

And it makes sense. In Leg 1, Frankfurt was definitely the stronger club, at least on a statistical basis. They outshot Shakhtar 21-6, winning 12 corners to Shakhtar’s one. They possessed the ball 56% of the match, completing about 50% more passes. But they just didn’t capitalize. In a home match, in front of 40,000+, some of the bounces are bound to go their way, and they simply need to win or draw to advance (FiveThirtyEight simulations say that happens 68% of the time).

And yet…

What We’re Thinking

The Bundesliga is a much better league than the Ukrainian Premier League, so Frankfurt’s current 5th place position in their domestic league probably trumps Shakhtar’s dominance in the Ukraine. But not truly factored in all of Shakhtar’s performances this season is that they’ve played nearly all of their matches on the road – home matches have been played mostly in Kharkiv, with a couple in Kiev – due to the political unrest in Eastern Ukraine. That they’ve made it this far is a true show of their team’s character, and I really don’t want their season to end. Not yet.

Is my hope for them enough to get them over the hump in front of all those screaming Germans? I don’t know, but of all the matches, this is the one I’ll be watching most closely. Good luck from the United States to the Miners and the Moles!

Until next time…

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