Through to the knockout stage for a second time, the manner of FC Shakhtar Donetsk's early Group E successes had pundits singling them out as potential UEFA Champions League winners.
Denied top spot in UEFA Champions League Group E following a 1-0 home defeat to Juventus on matchday six, FC shakhtar Donetsk had been the front-runners in their section, having confirmed their place in the round of 16 with a game to spare. Mircea Lucescu's team do not have a stand-out star player, but the Ukrainian champions' all-for-one attitude helped them to eliminate holders Chelsea FC from the competition.
Story so far
Shakhtar kicked off their campaign in style: they beat FC Nordsjælland comfortably, deserved more than a point at Juventus on matchday two, and probably merited a more emphatic result than 2-1 in their undersequent game against Chelsea. The Blues' 3-2 win in the return fixture in London came by virtue of a late goal, but three points in Denmark on matchday five saw them through. That home defeat to Juventus on matchday six, meanwhile, saw them go a fifth game without a clean sheet.
At home against Chelsea, Lucescu's side were so dominant that the European champions started to look like the kind of side Shakhtar were routinely shredding in the Ukrainian league – where they won their first 15 games of the season. But for Petr Cech’s presence, the Blues might have been swept away entirely, and the manner of the victory – if not the 2-1 scoreline – epitomised Shakhtar's confidence.
Lucescu's Brazilian stars – not least Willian and Fernandinho – remain at the heart of the Shakhtar machine, but the sheer quality of the performances his established players have put in has been a cause for concern for the coach, who knows scouts from Europe's biggest clubs have an eye on his crown jewels. Chelsea had shown an interest in Willian in the summer, and his list of admirers will only have expanded after his two goals in the 3-2 loss at Stamford Bridge.
Armenian striker Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored Shakhtar's first goals of the group stage, and the 22-year-old’s reputation emerged enhanced from the group stage. However, Lucescu has not experimented much with introducing new players to the squad – indeed he used only 16 players during the group stage.
Shakhtar reached the knockout phase of the tournament for only the second time, but on the last occasion – in 2010/11 – they made it to the quarter-finals. Can they break new ground this time around?
"When the team is well prepared and ready to do everything on the field, there's no need to adjust to any opponents. We set new goals, and reaching them depends only on ourselves. We reach them relying only on our own experience. This experience can be negative as well, but it is still useful to get through it."
Mircea Lucescu talks about his team's philosophy