Aiming to push their Ligue 1 struggles to one side, Monaco prepare to welcome Shakhtar Donetsk to the Stade Louis II for the first leg of their Champions League playoff round tie on Tuesday night.
Niko Kovac’s men saw off Sparta Prague 5-1 on aggregate to get this far, while the visitors beat Genk 4-2 over two legs to reach the final hurdle.
Another early-season wobble has dented Monaco’s Ligue 1 title bid within the first couple of weeks, but with the principality side once again bidding to make a name for themselves in the Champions League, their priorities may lie away from the domestic game at present.
However, Kovac’s men have only taken one point from the opening six on offer in Ligue 1 – with Terem Moffi’s penalty handing Lorient a 1-0 win at the weekend after Nantes claimed a 1-1 draw in gameweek one – and a fixture with last season’s surprise package Lens is sandwiched in between their two legs with Shakhtar.
Les Monegasques already find themselves playing catch up to title favourites Paris Saint-Germain, but they have had no such trouble making a name for themselves in Europe so far, claiming 2-0 and 3-1 victories over Sparta Prague to advance to the playoff round.
A stint in the Europa League group stages will follow should Monaco ultimately suffer defeat to Shakhtar, so Kovac’s men do have a safety net of sorts, but a side challenging for the Ligue 1 title right until the final few weeks of last season are only prepared to dine at the top continental table.
Monaco have now gone four games without keeping a clean sheet at home in any competition – maybe a slight concern for Kovac given Shakhtar’s penchant for goals – but with several key names set to return from the bench, there ought to be no repeat of Saturday’s dismal outing against Lorient.
Unsurprisingly, the arrival of former Sassuolo coach Roberto De Zerbi to Shakhtar has brought with it plenty of goals, and the 13-time Ukrainian champions are already firmly on track to regain their stronghold on the domestic crown following Dynamo Kiev’s dominance last term.
One minor blip against Oleksandria aside, Shakhtar have marched to successes over Inhulets, Lviv and most recently Metalist 1925 Kharkiv on Friday night, with captain Taras Stepanenko and new arrival Lassina Traore scoring the goals against the latter in a 2-0 success.
A pair of 2-1 victories over Belgian side Genk in the Champions League third qualifying round saw Shakhtar set up a crunch battle with Monaco, and the Ukrainian giants have only lost one of their last eight Champions League matches away from home – a run which includes victory over Real Madrid and draws with Manchester City and Inter Milan.
Shakhtar’s successes over Los Blancos in last season’s group stage were ultimately in vain as they failed to progress to the knockout rounds, but having held their own against Europe’s elite squads away from home in recent times, De Zerbi has every right to feel optimistic about a positive result in Monaco.
Not since the 1979-80 UEFA Cup have Monaco and Shakhtar Donetsk locked horns in a competitive fixture, with the Ukrainian side winning 2-1 at home before suffering a 2-0 defeat to bow out in the first round, although Monaco soon lost out to Lokomotiv Sofia in round two.
Monaco Champions League form:
Monaco form (all competitions):
Shakhtar Donetsk Champions League form:
Shakhtar Donetsk form (all competitions):