Sink or Swim: Shakhtar vs Lyon

As usual, Lyon likes to make life as difficult as possible. That means waiting until the last possible second in order to qualify for the next round of the Champions League.

“The last possible second” isn’t an exaggeration. Given the sheer amount of stoppage time goals conceded this season, we’re not going to know until the 90+5 minute if they’ve made it through.

The way Lyon fans have been tortured this season is probably a violation of the Geneva Convention.

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018
NSC Olimpiyskiy, Kiev
3 PM EST (21:00 CET)


Of the remaining 8 games in the Champions League group stages, only this one still has a spot up for grabs. In all other groups, the advancing teams are already decided, with only top spot still left to play for. But as I said, Lyon does enjoy living on the edge.

The scenarios for Group F are as follows:

  • Manchester City is through and will be the group winner if they win or draw against Hoffenfeim or if Lyon loses.
  • Lyon will be through with a win or draw and can finish first with a win and a Manchester City loss (unlikely).
  • Shakhtar Donetsk will quality only if they beat Lyon.

On the surface, things look good for Lyon. They only need a draw to progress while the burden is on Shakhtar to win. However, anyone who’s watched more then ten minutes of Lyon this season can tell you that they can’t protect a scoreline at all.

The biggest hurdle is the weather. Playing in Ukraine in the middle of winter is daunting for anyone unless you’re Ukrainian, and sadly Lyon don’t have any on their squad. The weather will be close to 0° C (31° F), with a 60% chance of snow. We can only hope someone thinks to mix in brandy with their Gatorade (question: does alcohol show up on doping tests?).

Adding to the drama is the fact that parts of Ukraine are under martial law due to Russia/Ukraine tensions. UEFA has decided that no matches can be held in Kharkiv, Shakhtar’s temporary home, so the game will take place in the Olimpiyskyi Sports Complex. This will, in essence, also be an away match for Shakhtar. However, Shakhtar are used to it – they had to leave their home city of Donetsk due to conflict in Eastern Ukraine and are currently playing 600 miles away in the west, but it’s definitely not bothering them because they currently top the Ukrainian Premier League.

Junior Moraes scored twice in 10 minutes against OL.

Shakhtar’s current form is solid. They lead the UPL after 18 games, with 14 wins, 3 draws, and 1 loss. With 43 goals scored and only 9 conceded, they lead 2nd place Dynamo with a comfortable 8 points. In the Champions League, their record isn’t as great, with 1 win, 2 draws, and 2 losses, with 7 goals scored and 15 conceded.

Against Lyon, they’ll be coming out guns blazing. Qualification is within their grasp, and they can fallback on their experience two months ago during their game in Lyon (in the empty stadium). They went up by 2 goals in the first half, and Lyon were lucky to claw their way back for a draw in the second.

Shakhtar has a nearly full squad, with only Yaroslav Rakits’kyy out as a regular starter. He played in the first leg against OL back in October.

Players to watch out for: everyone. Lyon don’t discriminate when it comes to conceding stupid goals.

Team News:

Lyon’s form is consistent in its inconsistency. After their last Champions League match, where they bossed around a hapless Manchester City and could have walked away with a win if they had tried hard enough, they struggled against a determined Lille side and eventually came back from a two goal deficit to get a draw, and then they had an embarrassing home loss to Rennes (where they were unable to come back with anything, even a shot on target).

After 16 games, they sit 4th in the Ligue 1 table, with 8 wins, 4 draws, and 4 losses, with 26 goals scored and 20 conceded. In the Champions League, they remain one of the few unbeaten teams, with 1 win and 4 (!!!) draws, with 11 goals scored and 10 conceded.

Lyon’s leading man this season, Memphis Depay.

The only positive note is that Lyon have only lost away twice in all competitions, against PSG and Reims. In Europe, they’ve scored 2 or more goals in their last 6 games.

Le groupe lyonnais: Lopes, Gorgelin, Racioppi – Denayer, Dubois, Marçal, Marcelo, Mendy, Tete – Aoaur, Caqueret, Diop, Ndombele, Ndiaye, Tousart – Dembéé, Depay, Fekir, Terrier, Traoré

City Slayer Maxwel Cornet misses out due to injury, as does Rafael and Jérémy Morel.

Léo Dubois makes his way back into the group after recovering from his mysterious injury that no one knows anything about. Tanguy Ndombélé and Houssem Aouar were listed as uncertain the day before, and while they have been training normally, there is still some doubt that one of them may not play.

Nabil Fekir was also rumored to start the game from the bench, but Bruno Genesio is still keeping faith with the captain despite his poor form and on-off injuries.

Ousseynou Ndiaye and Maxence Caqueret make the jump to the senior team, but expect them to be left off entirely tomorrow.

Expected Lineup:

The 3-5-2 is all the rage in Lyon these days. L’Equipe reports this as the probable lineup:

Denayer – Marcelo – Marcal
Tete – Ndombele – Fekir – Aouar – Mendy
Traore – Depay

I find the above formation vaguely upsetting because both Betrand Traoré and Nabil Fekir have been terrible in their last few games, but the choices to replace them – Moussa Dembélé and Martin Terrier – are also hit/misses. Fekir will sit behind the two attackers and offer them support (if he stays on the pitch long enough).

Marcal and Kenny Tete are rewarded for their good forms in the last few games. We can only pray that Marcelo has a better game against Shakhar than he did the first time, where he was awful.

Shakhtar’s coach, Paulo Fonseca, is anticipating the above 3-5-2 and will be preparing accordingly.

Viewing Options:

  • United States: Univision Deportes En Vivo (Spanish), B/R Live (English)
  • Mexico: ESPN3 Norte
  • Canada: DAZN
  • France: RMC Sport 1
  • United Kingdom: They don’t care enough to broadcast it live, but you can stream it on BT Sport Extra
  • Other Countries: Full List here

Expected Score:

Nope, not gonna jinx it.

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