Venue : Stade Louis II, Monaco
The winners of UEFA's two major European club cup competitions meet this Friday in the official curtain raiser for the new European season. Barcelona have history in this competition having played in no fewer than six of these games with Friday's game being their seventh.
Shakhtar Donetsk meanwhile will become the first Ukrainian team to take part in this competition with fellow Ukrainian team Dynamo Kyiv having represented the Soviet Union on the two occasions that they participated.
The UEFA Super Cup was initially established in 1972 and started off as a two legged affair between the winners of what was then the UEFA Champions Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. It however underwent some major surgery over the years with the winners of the Champions Cup becoming the winners of the Champions League and the winners of the Cup winners' Cup being replaced by the winners of the UEFA Cup after the former competition was discontinued by UEFA.
Since 1998, the final has also been a single match played in Monaco at the Stade Louis II. AC Milan are the team that have won the Cup the most, on 5 occasions, while Barcelona have the unwelcomed distinction of having finished as runners up on more occasions than any other team (4 times).
Since the Super Cup became a single match between the UEFA Cup winners and the Champions League winners in 2000 the UEFA Cup winners have claimed the trophy on 5 occasions with Galatasaray, Liverpool, Valencia, Sevilla and Zenith St. Petersburg having upset the odds to beat the Champions League winners. Real Madrid, Liverpool and Milan on 2 occasions were the Champions League winners to have claimed the Super Cup in the other 4 years. Barcelona will want to take notice of this as Shakhtar will be no pushovers and based on the above statistics the UEFA Cup winners have shown they are just as likely to take the Super Cup as the Champions League winners.
Barcelona fans will not have fond memories of their last Super Cup outing when the then European Champions with a starting lineup of Valdes, Beletti , Marquez, Puyol, Sylvinho, Xavi, Thiago Motta, Deco, Messi, Etoo and Ronaldinho along with subs Zambrotta Thuram Giuly, Iniesta and Gudjohnsen found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline against a Sevilla team.
That Sevilla team contained current Barca superstar Dani Alves, who was incidentally named man-of-the-match, and reported Barca target Christian Poulsen as well as the late Antonio Puerta and were coached by ex-Real Madrid manager Juande Ramos. It was of course the start of a disastrous 2 years that saw Barcelona lose their La Liga and Champions League crowns as well as losing in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup. All Barcelona fans will be hoping that this Super Cup goes much better than the last one did.
ROAD TO THE SUPER CUP
The Road to this Super Cup began long before the finals of the Champions League and the UEFA Cup Last season. Here is a look at the path taken by each team to reach the Super Cup
FC Shakhtar Donetsk
Won Ukrainian League in 2007-2008 (the 3rd time in 4 years) qualifying for the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round
Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round
Shakhtar Donetsk 2 - 0 Dinamo Zagreb
Dinamo Zagreb 1 - 3 Shakhtar Donetsk
Champions League Group Stage
FC Basel 1 - 2 Shakhtar Donetsk
Shakhtar Donetsk 1 - 2 Barcelona
Shakhtar Donetsk 0 - 1 Sporting CP
Sporting CP 1 - 0 Shakhtar Donetsk
Shakhtar Donetsk 5 - 0 Basel
Barcelona 2 - 3 Shakhtar Donetsk
Shakhtar finished 3rd in their group qualifying for the UEFA Cup
UEFA Cup Round of 32
Shakhtar Donetsk 2 - 0 Tottenham
Tottenham 1 - 1 Shakhtar Donetsk
UEFA Cup Round of 16
CSKA Moscow 1 - 0 Shakhtar Donetsk
Shakhtar Donetsk 2 - 0 CSKA Moscow
UEFA Cup Quarter Final
Shakhtar Donetsk 2 - 0 Marseille
Marseille 1 - 2 Shakhtar Donetsk
UEFA Cup Semi Final
Dynamo Kiev 1 - 1 Shakhtar Donetsk
Shakhtar Donetsk 2 - 1 Dynamo Kiev
UEFA Cup Final
Shakhtar Donetsk 2 - 1 Werder Bremen
Finished 3rd in La Liga qualifying for the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round
Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round
Barcelona 4 - 0 Wilsa Krakow
Wisla Krakow 1 - 0 Barcelona
Champions League Group Stage
Barcelona 3 - 1 Sporting CP
Shakhtar 1 - 2 Barcelona
Basel 0 - 5 Barcelona
Barcelona 1 - 1 Basel
Sporting CP 2 - 5 Barcelona
Barcelona 2 - 3 Shakhtar
Champions League Round of 16
Lyon 1 - 1 Barcelona
Barcelona 5 - 2 Lyon
Champions League Quarter Final
Barcelona 4 - 0 Bayern
Bayern 1 - 1 Barcelona
Champions League Semi Final
Barcelona 0 - 0 Chelsea
Chelsea 1 - 1 Barcelona
Champions League Final
Barcelona 2 - 0 Manchester United
These two teams met twice last season in the Champions League Group stage with each side claiming a victory at the other team's stadium. Barca took the first match in the Ukraine in a real thriller. Ilsinho gave the home side the lead just before halftime with Messi looking on from the bench. Clearly needing a boost in the attack in the second half coach Pep Guardiola brought in Lionel Messi and Bojan Krkic for Thierry Henry and Samuel Etoo Respectively and the move almost paid instant rewards with Bojan going close on 81 mins with a blistering left footed shot after a move that saw him move past 2 Shakhtar defenders.
Barcelona would not be denied though and in the 87th minute a Bojan cross from the right was badly fumbled by the Shakhtar goalkeeper Pyatov leaving Messi with the on of the simplest tap ins of his career. Shakhtar now stumbling like a stunned boxer were very lucky not to concede a penalty in the 92nd minute when Andres Iniesta was hacked down inside the area following a Messi through ball. Barcelona would break down the door however in the 94 minute Xavi played Messi in with a defence splitting pass and the little Argentine kept his cool to produce a magnificent chip to seal the win. Shakhtar heartbroken and Barca showing some of the steely resolve that would see them claim the treble.
Messi breaks Ukrainian hearts
By the time the return leg in Barcelona rolled around Barcelona had already won the group stage and Shakhtar Donetsk had already been knocked out of the Champions League and had sewn up third place guaranteeing them a spot in the UEFA Cup. As a result Pep Guardiola took the opportunity to give some young players and reserve players such as Jorquera, Victor Sanchez, Sylvinho, Caceres, Busquets, Victor Vazquez, Hleb, Bojan, Pedro, Botia, Abraham and Xavi Torres a chance to experience a match in the Champions League and to get some minutes in.
Shakhtar meanwhile started more first team regulars such as Fernandinho, Willian, Jadson, Srna, Rat Chygrynskiy and Pyatov. Shakhtar took the lead through Gladkiy in the first half and doubled it just before the hour mark through the same player. Sylvinho replied with a wonder strike before Fernandinho made sure there was no coming back for Barca with a tap in after 75 minutes. Busquets added a late consolation item but Shakhtar would inflict Barcelona's only loss of the season in the Champions League .
Shakhtar get their revenge
Barcelona's start to the season has been pretty good with their youth team players such as Thiago, Dos Santos, Gai, Muniesa, Fontas and Jeffren all showing promise in the pre-season games. They have already claimed 1 trophy this season by beating Athletic Bilbao over two legs in the final of the Spanish Super Cup and except for a blip against Manchester City they have been unbeaten in the rest of the pre-season. With Messi, Ibrahimovic and Henry finally fit and Iniesta rumoured to be just about ready to return to action, the Blaugrana will be supremely confident of adding another trophy to the four that they have already won in 2009.
Shakhtar meanwhile have already started their season and look good so far in an attempt to reclaim the league title that they lost to Dynamo Kiev last season. They have started off in fine fashion with 3 wins and 1 draw and are just 3 points behind Kiev with 1 game in hand having scored 10 goals and conceded 2.
Their European campaign did not start off as well however as Shakhtar crashed out of the Champions League Third qualifying round this season going out on away goals to lesser fancied Romanian club Timisoara. Normal service was resumed in the playoff round for the Europa League (UEFA's replacement for the UEFA Cup) as Shakhtar claimed a 5-0 aggregate victory of Turkish club Sivasspor. Shakhtar have not lost a competitive game this season and will be full of confidence heading into the Super Cup clash with Barcelona.
Messi vs the Brazilians
Normally in the key player section of the preview I would choose just 1 or 2 players to compare to each other from each team. However in looking through Shakhtar's recent games one thing struck me in particular. Shakhtar's 5 Brazilian players seem to be at the heart of almost every attacking move that takes place and have scored a phenomenal percentage of Shakhtar's goals in Europe. All 5 of them, Fernandinho, Ilsinho, Willian, Jadson and Luiz Adriano started the UEFA Cup final and two of them scored to give Shakhtar a 2-1 victory and the UEFA Cup.
In last season's Champions League Qualifiers, Group Stage, UEFA Cup and this seasons Champions League Qualifiers and Europa League Qualifiers, Shakhtar have scored 37 goals of which 27 where scored by their 5 Brazilians. In other words Shakhtar's Brazilians have scored roughly 73% of their goals in Europe over the past 12 months. Shakhtar will once again be looking to their Brilliant Bevy of Brazilians to Beat the Blaugrana Black and Blue.
I could try to use superlative adjectives to describe Leo Messi but I think everybody knows by now how important the little Argentine is to FC Barcelona. He showed his commitment to FC Barcelona by returning 1 week early from training in order to be just another member of the team and not receive any special treatment. He came off the bench against Shakhtar with devastating effect and if Shakhtar want to win the Super Cup a good place to start would be keeping Leo Messi quiet.
Barcelona look a completely different team when Messi is marked effectively as Chelsea proved, however keeping the Argentine Superstar quiet for 90 minutes is no easy task. Chelsea found out the hard way that giving Messi even an inch of space at any moment can prove fatal as his perfect pass to Andres Iniesta ended their Champions League hopes. Messi is expected to be named the UEFA player of the year on Thursday and will be keen to show the form that made him one of the top players in the world in the Super Cup on Friday.
The X factor
How could I write a whole article without mentioning the Shakhtar player that Barcelona fans possibly know better than any other? Dmytro Chygrynskiy has been the subject of a long running transfer saga this summer that finally appears to be coming to an end. So highly rated by coach Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona manager has refused to settle for any other central defender than the man nicknamed the "Ukrainian Beckenbauer".
A strong central defender with a touch Chygrynskiy could be in the peculiar position of starting the Super Cup final a Shakhtar player and finishing it a Barcelona player if a deal is reached and announced by the end of the final. The coach of Shakhtar claims he expects Chygrynskiy to play but one would have to wonder how focussed he would be on the game given his impending move to Barca. Could he even be a Barcelona player before the Super Cup? Only time will tell.
Shakhtar do not appear to have any injuries going into the game and should be able to field a full strength lineup. Barcelona on the other hand are missing Iniesta and Marquez. Iniesta reportedly has a chance of playing but even if he does, it is hardly likely that he will start.
Shakhtar : Pyatov, Srna, Kucher, Chygrynskiy, Rat, Kobin, Fernandinho, Ilsinho, Jadson, Wilian, Luiz Adriano
Barcelona : Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Xavi, Yaya, Keita, Messi, Ibrahimovic, Henry
CONCLUSION : Shakhtar are a team that very rarely concede early goals. From the start of last seasons European qualifiers to present Shakhtar have not conceded a goal in the first 15 minutes of any European games they have played so Barca will have to be patient and willing to wait to break Shakhtar down. Shakhtar have scored 9 goals between minutes 61-75 and a further 9 between minutes 76-90 meaning that Barcelona will have to be very careful of switching off if they have a 1 goal lead after 60 mins.
Shakhtar seem to wake up after 60 minutes scoring 18 out of 37 or almost half of their goals in Europe after the 60 minute mark. They do tend to concede goals just after half time and just before the end of the game though, conceding 5 goals between mins 46-60 and 6 goals between mins 76-90 for a total of 11 out of 16 total goals conceded in Europe during those two time slots.
Barcelona will want to come out of the half time interval flying as Shakhtar seem to be slow to get back into the pace of the game after halftime. Barca will also need to be careful as they have conceded most goals during last season's Champion's League between minutes 46-60 and 61-75. The Blaugrana have conceded 8 goals out of a total 14 during those 2 time intervals.
Overall a close game with two very good sides that both want to win. In the end though, I'd have to pick Barca as just having a little extra quality and experience than Shakhtar in this sort of game with Xavi Iniesta Messi Valdes Puyol Dani Alves and Gudjohnsen all having already experienced this fixture. That experience could be the difference in the end.
Prediction : Barcelona 2 Shakhtar 1
Friday, 28 August 2009
Venue : Stade Louis II, Monaco