Sports Mole previews Thursday’s Europa League clash between Shakhtar Donetsk and Marseille, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Returning to competitive action following a two-month hiatus, Shakhtar Donetsk battle Marseille in the first leg of their Europa League knockout round playoff at Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion on Thursday night.
The Ukrainian champions settled for third place in their Champions League group to drop down to the second tier, while Gennaro Gattuso‘s men were runners-up in Europa League Group B.
Due to the Ukrainian Premier League’s lengthy winter break, Shakhtar Donetsk have not taken to the field with the aim of putting priceless points on the board since December 13, where their closing Champions League Group H clash with Porto ended with an extraordinary eight goals flying into the back of the net.
Unfortunately for Marino Pusic‘s team, five of those efforts came from the Portuguese powerhouses, whose 5-3 success ensured that they would join Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League, condemning Shakhtar to second-tier continental football between now and the end of the season.
There was one consolation prize for Pusic’s men to take home, though, as nine points was the highest total out of all eight teams to drop down into the Europa League, with the Miners doing the double over whipping boys Royal Antwerp while also eking out a memorable 1-0 win over Barcelona in Hamburg.
Each of the last six editions of the Champions League has seen Shakhtar fail to make it out of the group, but the 2009 UEFA Cup winners have only suffered two eliminations from the Europa League at this stage, although their run in 2022-23 ended with an 8-2 aggregate slaughter versus Feyenoord in the last 16.
The hosts are now at risk of failing to keep a clean sheet in seven successive Europa League fixtures for the very first time, and they have only won three out of seven friendlies since their domestic league paused, although one arrived on February 8; a 4-1 thrashing of Turkmenistan outfit Arkadag.
The formula for Marseille was simple; avoid defeat to Brighton and sail through to the last 16 of the Europa League with an unbeaten record from Group B. However, the Olympiens’ prolific touch evaded them on the English coast, where the Seagulls upset the apple cart to bypass the playoff stage.
Gattuso’s men travelled north having taken 11 points from their first five Europa League affairs of the season – scoring at least twice in each of them – but on that fateful night in Sussex, a solitary strike from Joao Pedro in the 88th minute bumped the French powerhouses down to second place.
Now testing their mettle in the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time since the 2017-18 season – where Atletico Madrid bested them in the final – Marseille have struggled to appease their demanding supporters domestically in recent weeks, only managing two wins from eight games since being beaten by the Seagulls.
A dampening 1-1 Ligue 1 draw with lowly Metz at the weekend extended Les Olympiens’ winless run to five fixtures, and amid warnings from angered supporters that future exchanges will not be so pleasant if results do not improve, Gattuso’s troops need no further incentive to make their European nous count on Thursday.
History does not favour the French contingent, though, as they were beaten 4-1 on aggregate by Shakhtar in the quarter-finals of the 2008-09 UEFA Cup – which the Miners went on to win – and it has been 20 years since Marseille last overcame a Ukrainian opponent in European competition.
Shakhtar Donetsk form (all competitions):
Marseille Europa League form:
Marseille form (all competitions):
A handful of Shakhtar players will likely remain confined to the treatment room for Thursday’s first leg, including Burkina Faso attacker Lassina Traore, who has played just three times all season due to a tendon injury.
Ivan Petryak (ankle), Marlon Gomes (calf) and reserve goalkeeper Tymur Puzankov (ACL) are also on the hosts’ infirm list, and Gomes was one of two winter arrivals from Brazil for the Miners, who also poached 21-year-old winger Kevin from Palmeiras.
The Selecao Under-20 international is primed to make his competitive debut for the Ukrainian champions this week, but teenage compatriots Eguinaldo and Newerton will provide stiff competition.
Marseille’s efforts to slay Metz were not aided by Samuel Gigot‘s first-half red card, but while the centre-back is fine to feature in the Europa League, Ismaila Sarr is suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
Despite previous optimism over their respective fitness levels, neither Geoffrey Kondogbia (muscle) nor Jordan Veretout (unspecified) were fit to face Les Grenats, where Valentin Rongier (knee), Bilal Nadir (ACL) and Amir Murillo (muscle) also sat out.
However, Gattuso should have Chancel Mbemba back at his disposal after the centre-back helped DR Congo finish fourth at the Africa Cup of Nations, while one more goal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will take him up to 30 in the Europa League; only Radamel Falcao boasts as many efforts since the tournament’s rebranding.
Shakhtar Donetsk possible starting lineup:
Riznyk; Gocholeishvili, Bondar, Lemkin, Matvienko; Stepanenko; Zubkov, Bondarenko, Sudakov, Eguinaldo; Sikan
Marseille possible starting lineup:
Lopez; Clauss, Mbemba, Balerdi, Merlin; Ounahi, Onana, Harit; Ndiaye, Aubameyang, Correa
We say: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-1 Marseille
Having not taken to the pitch for a competitive match in over eight weeks, rustiness is sure to come into play for Shakhtar Donetsk, who were not hugely impressive during their period of winter friendlies.
Gattuso’s men have left a lot to be desired in recent weeks too, but the importance of Mbemba’s imminent return cannot be overstated, and the French outfit should be good enough for a hard-earned draw in Germany.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.