Manuel Veth –
Frankfurt vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Thursday, February 21, 17:55GMT/18:55CET – Commerzbank Arena, Frankfurt, Germany
Despite being held to a 2-2 draw in Ukraine by a ten-man Shakhtar side Eintracht Frankfurt are in an excellent position ahead of the second leg at the Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt. Anything less than a 2-2 draw and Frankfurt would be through to the next round.
It would be a typical result for the Eagles. Eintracht Frankfurt, after all, are still undefeated in the calendar year. But at the same time, five out of the six games in 2019 ended in draws. Dortmund held RB Leipzig to a 0-0 draw and Borussia Dortmund, as well as Borussia Mönchengladbach to 1-1, draws in 2019. On top of that Werder Bremen and Frankfurt were caught in a 2-2 stalemate — a result that would mean extra-time on Thursday against Shakhtar.
“I would have preferred to lose a couple and win two, then we would have two more points,” Adi Hütter explained. Frankfurt’s problem has been lack of control in midfield, which has been caused by injury worries to new signing Sebastian Rode and midfield fighter Gelson Fernandes.
“Our biggest problem is in midfield,” Hütter said after the game against Gladbach on Sunday. Without an enforcer in midfield Eintracht lack the balance between their excellent attack and the three-man defence.
A balance that will be important against Shakhtar Donetsk’s Champions League class attack, which possesses at least the class that Gladbach had on the weekend and the Foals made good use of Frankfurt’s lack of grid between the defensive and midfield line.
Hence, Adi Hütter has to hope that either Gelson Fernandes or Sebastian Rode return ahead of the Shakhtar game on Thursday. Without the two the Eagles might opt to seek their salvation in the attack.
It is a strategy that could work against a Shakhtar side that will be without their very own midfield enforcer. Taras Stepanenko will be suspended and in his stead, Shakhtar head coach Paulo Fonseca could be forced to play the talented, but still somewhat, inexperienced Maksym Malyshev.
Another issue for Shakhtar is the fact that the Ukrainians are still in winter preparation mode. The game against Eintracht Frankfurt was the first competitive game of the calendar year for the Miners. The Ukrainian Premier League, however, will not kick off until this weekend, which on the one hand means that the Miners had a week off but also that they are not yet in full competition mode.
With all of this in mind, and with Shakhtar missing a key player in midfield, Eintracht Frankfurt are in a good position against one of the best clubs from the post-Soviet space. Furthermore, the two goals in Kharkiv allow Frankfurt to simply record their favourite result of late and advance with a 1-1 draw.
Frankfurt vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Players to look out for:
Filip Kostić #10 – Eintracht Frankfurt
Filip Kostić was one of the scorers against Shakhtar Donetsk. Overall, the Serbian winger has improved massively as a player and lives up to the billing that made him one of the most interesting prospects in the Balkans when he was signed by VfB Stuttgart from Groningen back in 2014. Now five years, and two relegations with Stuttgart as well Hamburg, later Kostić is finally showing his potential. At the same time one goal and six assists in 21 Bundesliga games is not enough, the next step, therefore, is to improve his goalscoring ability, perhaps doubling his tally against Shakhtar in the return leg.
Viktor Kovalenko #74 – Shakhtar Donetsk
Viktor Kovalenko has been in and out of the lineup all season. The 23-year-old Ukrainian attacking midfielder is one of the few natives in Shakhtar’s attacking lineup where the Miners mostly rely on talented South Americans. Kovalenko, however, is a special talent that despite some inconsistency has the potential to become one of the brightest players to ever emerge from Shakhtar’s youth academy. A playmaker, who in the past has been compared with former Bayern midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, Kovalenko has been moved to the centre of the park where his ability to carry the ball between the lines is better accentuated than on the wing where he started his career. In the first leg, Kovalenko’s ability to cover both offensive areas and defensive areas in midfield allowed Shakhtar to compensate for Taras Stepanenko’s sending off, which in turn makes Kovalenko a key figure in the return leg against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Frankfurt vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Match Stats
- Shakhtar were the first team in this year’s competition to hold Eintracht Frankfurt to a draw. The Eagles won six out of six in the group stage and remain undefeated in the competition.
- The clubs were paired together in the 1980/81 UEFA Cup first round when Eintracht, in their first game as holders, lost 1-0 in Donetsk before recovering to win the Frankfurt return 3-0.
- Another home win (2-0) enabled Eintracht to eliminate Dnipro from the second round of the 1993/94 UEFA Cup second round (2-1 on aggregate) but they lost their other home fixture against Ukrainian opposition 2-3 to Dynamo Kyiv in the second round of the 1974/75 European Cup Winners’ Cup.
- That 1980/81 tie was the first against Bundesliga opposition for Shakhtar, who at the time were representing the Soviet Union. The Pitmen’s overall record against German clubs is W7 D8 L6, including a 2-1 win against Werder Bremen in the 2009 UEFA Cup final.
- Shakhtar have won four of their nine encounters in Germany, including the last two, in each of which they have scored three goals. It was on German soil, however, that they suffered their heaviest European defeat, losing 7-0 at Bayern München in the second leg of the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Frankfurt vs Shakhtar Donetsk – 1-1
Frankfurt vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Lineups
Trapp – N’Dicka, Hasebe, Hinteregger – Kostić, Gaćinović, de Guzman, da Costa – Rebić – Jović, Haller
Head Coach: Adi Hütter
Pyatov – Ismaily, Khocholova, Kryvtsov, Butko – Alan Patrick, Malyshev – Taison, Kovalenko, Marlos – Júnior Moraes
Head Coach: Paulo Fonseca
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others contributes to Forbes.com and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.