The Champions lands in Madrid in a state of exception, of the team and its surroundings. It is played for the first time in Valdebebas, with the city besieged by the pandemic, with the team restless about the lack of a goal, resources and captain Sergio Ramos and against an adversary affected by the coronavirus (follow the game live on As.com). A scenario of maximum pressure for Zidane's team after an atypical draw: the crocodiles (Inter and Borussia Mönchengladbach) were not in pot 2. There, where in theory the greatest danger awaits this group stage, it came out Shakhtar, who won a Europa League eleven years ago but only reached the quarterfinals once in the top competition and that in eleven of his fifteen participations he went to the first exchange.
The Shakhtar is the dream of Rinat Akhmetov, the son of a miner who has finished on the Forbes list (number 272 of ultra-millionaires on the planet, with an estimated fortune of 6.7 billion euros) after becoming the richest man in Ukraine thanks to to its steel companies. Ajmetov, of Tatar descent, took over the club 24 years ago and endowed it with an unprecedented infrastructure in the country: an academy, a large training center and a team that ended the traditional hegemony of Dynamo Kiev (it has conquered eleven of the thirteen last leagues in the country). In 2004 he hired the Romanian Mircea Lucescu, his coach for twelve years, who convinced Sergei Palkin, the club's general manager, and Ajmetov himself to nurture the team of Brazilian promises as a formula for growth. Every year young players arrived with great resale possibilities. Douglas Costa, Fernandinho, Willian, Fred, Fernando, Bernard or Luiz Adriano passed through there on their way to leagues and larger companies.
Half Brazilian, half Ukrainian
Lucescu left four years ago, but his idea is still there. There are as many Brazilians (13) as Ukrainians in the squad, although the team's potential has been diminished by the armed conflict in the region. It is now a less attractive destination for footballers and Ajmetov, who has become a banner in the fight against pro-Russian insurgents, has greater concerns, although his fortune appears intact. A year ago he bought the most expensive villa in the world, located on the French Riviera, for 200 million euros.
Trained by Portuguese Luis Castro, with twenty years of experience in the League of his country, he has been in suspense for weeks by the Covid. Two of his players, goalkeeper Pyatov and midfielder Stepanenko, tested positive for the team's concentration. Another nine did shortly after, in the tests practiced by the club. Among them, Junior Moraes, author of 25 goals last year, Kovalenko, Marlos or Matviyenko, important players. They all tested negative on Sunday, but many work sessions have been missed in recent days. Added to this are the long-term casualties of veteran Ismaily and former Sevilla player Konoplyanka. Finally, Stepanenko, Kovalenko, Matvienko, Krytsov, Allan Patrick, Tyson and Junior Moraes stayed in Ukraine, which leaves the group square. In a way, Shakhtar is a team without average age: eight of their players are over 30 and ten are less than twenty-two. That is, footballers back or to be done. A very accessible team for Madrid, although it may not be so accessible for this Madrid.
The goal is everything
Cristiano scored 105 goals in the Champions League in nine seasons in the white club. In nine of them (all but the first) the team reached the semifinals or the title. In the two years without the Portuguese he has fallen in the second round. Spreading the goal in his absence has not given Madrid much in Europe. 22 players (all the field players except Militao) scored last season, but were not able to make up for the ammunition that Cristiano took away. In this one he goes the same way: six goals, five games and four scorers. The last three times that Madrid lost in the round of 16, they did not exceed two goals per game. Of the eight in which he reached at least the semifinals, in seven he exceeded that average. The goal is everything.
Zidane will not have Ramos, reserved for the Camp Nou. Without him, Madrid only won one of eight games in Europe. Nacho will also repeat and Mendy, Valverde and Casemiro, the team's energy supplement, will return. The Brazilian is a crucial player in Europe with Zidane. He has only lost six games in the Champions League and all but one (the inconsequential one against Apoel in 2017) were due to injury. His absence against Cádiz surprised even Álvaro Cervera. It paints that Isco and Lucas Vázquez will return to the bench and that Asensio, this time, will complete the attacking trio with Benzema and Vinicius, the team's surprising top scorer. Zidane is not expected to save anything, Ramos on the sidelines, despite the proximity of the Classic, due to the team's outstanding debt with Europe, the known danger of finishing second in the group and because the starts have left a unit B that is on the way to be C.