So now it’s clear – Shakhtar Donetsk are the team to beat in Group E of the Champions League.
Although this was a disappointing Chelsea performance – from the Keystone Kop defending to the tame front-line offering, let’s get one thing straight – Shakhtar Donetsk are a very good side that will go a long way in this competition.
We shouldn’t be surprised, for Shakhtar perhaps represent the growing new order in European football – the threat from the East. There’s a hint of money in Ukrainian football and Shakhtar are the best side in that league (their record speaks for itself). There’s an air of confidence and swagger about them and they’re packed with Brazilians. Enough said, really.
But what of Chelsea? Shakhtar made Mata, Oscar and Hazard look decidedly average. John Terry, not surprisingly, looked out of sorts, and David Luiz was all at sea at times. Thank goodness for Peter Cech, who saved the Blues from a real pasting. Grateful as everyone was for the consolation goal, 2-1 really flattered Chelsea.
Can Chelsea continue to rely on Torres as their only credible striker? The answer is no, even if Torres continues or betters his current scoring rate. The January window will undoubtedly see Chelsea dip into the coffers to add some firepower.
What next, then in the Champions League? The generous display against Juventus is starting to look increasingly ugly and RDM’s men will have to get a result in Turin. The fact the Italians have yet to win a game is encouraging, but they will be smarting from their 1-1 draw in Denmark.
As a team in transition, Chelsea’s Premier League challenge is gathering momentum and has probably exceeded expectations. Europe is different and it will be hard to repeat the trick, although I sense that not many expect a second consecutive Champions League title to land up in SW6. Everyone looks to the heavyweights such as Barca, Real, Bayern and United as challengers for the silverware, but I think you can add Shakhtar to that list.
Chelsea have been a little exposed in Europe this season. Notwithstanding the win in Copenhagen, Atletico Madrid, Juve and now the Ukrainians have all uncovered shortcomings. More success may have to wait as the team blends and is further strengthened. The fat lady, as they say, is not singing, but somebody may have just handed her some sheet music!
This was RDM’s first defeat in the Champions League and it will hurt for a while, but Chelsea do not have time to wallow and they must beat Shakhtar on November 7 at the Bridge. Anything else may have Stamford Bridge regulars blocking out Thursday evenings in the New Year.