Group A: Shakhtar Donetsk, expectations high but current form discouraging

Financed by oligarch Rinat Akhmetov since the mid-1990s, Shakhtar really began to motor after the appointment of the experienced Mircea Lucescu as coach in 2004. The Romanian is still at the helm today and has guided Shakhtar to 18 major trophies, including seven Ukrainian Premier League titles and the 2009 UEFA Cup. 

Can they do it again like last season?

Shakhtar were already Champions League regulars by the time they beat a good Werder Bremen side in the 2009 final in Istanbul, and went on to reach the Champions League quarterfinals in 2011, where they lost to eventual winners Barcelona. Those who have seen Lucescu’s side know that his teams are elegant in possession, expressing their coach’s cosmopolitan nature that has led him to bring in a string of imports from Brazil in the past nine years. 

Well, given so many of the departures, pressure is high for the team...but the star player in the team will still be Douglas Costa. It is a surprise that he remained with the team has been heavily linked with Manchest er United among others since, but remains at Lucescu’s disposal. A true No. 10 with twinkle toes, a devilish burst of pace and a handsome left foot, one wonders whether he has paid for his versatility, with Shakhtar often using him wide where his influence is only intermittent. 

Fernandinho (a major influence in the dressing room), Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Razvan Rat all left, following the exit of Willian to Anzhi in January. Shakhtar have stayed faithful to their policy of bringing in young South American talents, with Brazilians Fernando, Fred and Wellington Nem joining Argentinian forward Facundo Ferreyra in arriving. The expectation is high given last season's performance but having drawn one and lost two of their past three league games, their worst run in more than nine years, current form is definitely discouraging for the players and team...

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