Shakhtar Donetsk will be aiming to spring another surprise in the Champions League when they welcome Monaco to NSK Olimpiyskiy for the second leg of their playoff tie on Wednesday.
A 19th-minute winner from Pedrinho saw the Ukrainian side prevail in the first leg at the Stade Louis II, and Monaco’s league fortunes have not improved whatsoever since then.
The goal-laden performances that Shakhtar are beginning to become accustomed to under Roberto De Zerbi did not translate into a totally dominant first-leg display, but the Ukrainian side shut up shop and claimed a priceless advantage thanks to Pedrinho’s first-half strike.
Shakhtar may have mustered just six shots on goal compared to Monaco’s 16, but the scoreline in the top left-hand corner of the screen is the only stat that counts after the final whistle blows, and a fifth group-stage appearance in succession beckons for this week’s hosts.
Shakhtar previously progressed to the proper tournament four times in a row thanks to their spate of dominance in the Ukrainian Premier League, but they have been forced to do it the hard way this year after finishing second to Dynamo Kiev last term, although they claimed a 4-2 third-round victory over Genk before prevailing on Monaco’s turf.
De Zerbi’s side also have their eyes firmly on the domestic prize and warmed up for the second leg in ideal fashion with a 3-0 away victory at Chornomorets Odesa at the weekend, as Alan Patrick, Manor Solomon and 18-year-old Georgiy Sudakov found the back of the net.
With seven wins from eight competitive matches since the 2021-22 season kicked off, Shakhtar may have held the underdog tag heading into their playoff fixture with Monaco, but the French side are now facing the uphill battle.
After pushing Lille and Paris Saint-Germain all the way last season, Monaco have simply fallen to pieces at the start of this term, with the pressure of juggling European and domestic commitments contributing to their downfall.
Prevailing 5-1 on aggregate against Sparta Prague in the third round of Champions League qualifying represents the only silver lining in Monaco’s season so far, as they remain winless in Ligue 1 following a 2-0 loss to Lens on matchday three.
After a goalless first 45 minutes, Lens forward Ignatius Ganago saw his powerful effort seep through Alexander Nubel’s clutches and trickle over the line. In the fourth minute of second-half injury time, Caio Henrique’s dreadful error allowed Przemyslaw Frankowski to set up Simon Banza for a tap-in.
Having now suffered three defeats on the trot without a goal in all competitions, Niko Kovac’s underperforming and fatigued troops are at risk of an early exit from the Champions League, but that may be a blessing in disguise if their league fortunes were to continue in the same vein during the group stages.
Monaco have only ever made the journey to Shakhtar once before in the 1979-80 UEFA Cup first round, where they lost the first leg 2-1 in Ukraine before coming back to win the second leg 2-0, and a similar turnaround here certainly would not go amiss.
Shakhtar Donetsk Champions League form:
Shakhtar Donetsk form (all competitions):
Monaco Champions League form:
Monaco form (all competitions):
We say: Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Monaco (Shakhtar win 3-1 on aggregate)
Monaco’s profligacy was there for all to see in the first leg, and there would be no better time for Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland to find their shooting boots if their European adventure is to continue.
While Shakhtar’s defence may be breached on home soil, the hosts prevailed comfortably in the league with a second-string team and have proven their European pedigree consistently throughout the past few years, so we are backing the Ukrainian side to cause somewhat of an upset and force Monaco to settle for Europa League football.