Champions League – Dinamo Zagreb v Shakhtar Donetsk

The Champions League group stage resumes this week with 16 matches over Tuesday and Wednesday. We aren’t going to cover them all, instead focusing on two matches from each day that are the closest matchups of the week, as well as have the biggest impact on the group tables heading into the homestretch.

As they have been from day one of the Group Stage, Manchester City remains the favorite to win the tournament overall, and have all but won Group C (they have over a 99% chance of claiming first in the group). As we covered last week, they are one of three clubs currently with a perfect record thus far, and a win at home against Atalanta on Wednesday will clinch the group officially.

Our next preview of Matchday 4 features the clubs competing for second place in Group C behind Manchester City. Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donetsk both have four points, including wins over pointless Atalanta and losses to Manchester City, and are coming off a 2-2 draw on Matchday 3. The reverse fixture shifts the action to Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, Croatia, with action kicking off at 9:00pm CET (3:00pm EST) on Wednesday night.

As we’ve done previously when previewing group stage matches, we’ll take a look at how the clubs are performing back in their domestic leagues, as well as their longer-term history in UEFA competition. Then, we’ll take a look at the clubs’ history and how this match will determine the group’s outcome.

Without further ado, here’s a look at the clubs:

Domestic League Performance

Dinamo Zagreb was founded in 1911, and is the most successful club in Croatian football history. They have won 20 league titles, and have never played below the top flight in their history, beginning in the Yugoslav First League in 1946 and then the Croatian First League since 1992. They’ve won 13 of the last 14 First League titles, with only a second-place finish in 2016-17 breaking the streak.

So far this season, they are in their familiar spot at the top of the league, with 31 points through 13 matches played. They also have a league best +17-goal differential, though one of their two losses on the season was to last place Varaždin. They are also undefeated at home in league play this year, which could bode well as the host in this match.

Shakhtar Donetsk was founded in 1936 and is the most popular club in Ukraine. They are the defending champion of the Ukrainian Premier League, their third straight league championship. The club has been without a permanent home since the Russo-Ukrainian War started in 2014, playing their home matches in Kharkiv, nearly 1,000 kilometers away from their home in Donbass.

The nomadic lifestyle hasn’t affected the club much, as they lead the Ukrainian Premier League by ten points through 13 matches so far this season. They have yet to lose a match, and are averaging three goals per match, while only surrendering six goals all season. They appear to be on their way to their fourth straight league title.

European History

Dinamo Zagreb began this season’s Champions League in the second qualifying round and went 4-2-0 during qualifying, defeating Saburtalo Tbilisi, Ferencváros, and Rosenborg to reach the group stage. Shakhtar Donetsk qualified directly for the Group Stage thanks to their championship in Ukraine last season.

Dinamo Zagreb has never won a title in Europe, with their best performance being multiple trips to the group stage of Champions League, with seven appearances, including this one, since the 1998-99 season. They have also reached the Round of 16 in Europa League twice, including last season, when they lost to Benfica.

Shaktar Donetsk has one European title, a victory over Werder Bremen in the 2009 UEFA Cup Final. Last season, they finished third in their group in Champions League, and then lost to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League Round of 32. They’ve advanced as far as the quarterfinals in Champions League, doing so in 2010-11.

This Matchup

As mentioned earlier, the clubs are currently tied behind Manchester City in Group C with four points each, with Dinamo Zagreb ahead on a tiebreaker thanks to their two road goals during Matchday 3’s draw in Ukraine. Dinamo Zagreb is also ahead in overall goal differential thanks to a 4-0 victory over Atalanta, while Shakhtar Donetsk managed only a 2-1 victory over the struggling Italian club.

In addition to their draw a few weeks ago, the clubs have met in two other matches in European competition, meeting in the third round of the 2008-09 Champions League. Shakhtar Donetsk came out on top in both matches in that tournament, prevailing 5-1 on aggregate, and therefore holds a 2-1-0 advantage in their head-to-head matchups.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the home club is favored in this one, with Dinamo Zagreb given a 47% chance of claiming the three points. Shakhtar Donetsk wins in 29% of simulations, and a draw is expected the remaining 24% of matchups.

Overall in the group, Dinamo Zagreb is favored to finish in second behind Manchester City, doing so in 54% of simulations. This is despite having the lowest Soccer Power Index (SPI) rating of the four clubs in the group. This is likely because Dinamo Zagreb’s remaining match against Manchester City is at home, while Shakhtar Donetsk will have to travel to Manchester for their Matchday 5 tilt in three weeks.

An outright win for either club in this match will likely assure that club of a place in the Champions League Round of 16, with the loser relegated to the Round of 32 in Europa League. Or the clubs could draw again, and potentially leave it up to each club’s respective rematch with Atalanta over the last two months. Either way, we’ll be keeping an eye on both these clubs through the end of the year.

Until next time…

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