Best odds: 3
AS Monaco are set to welcome Shakhtar Donetsk at the Stade Loius II on Tuesday as the two teams prepare to clash for a place in this season’s Champions League. It is the first leg of the final round of the qualifications for UEFA’s elite club competition.
Monaco were, at least in theory, in the title race in Ligue 1 last season for a long time. They eventually finished third, behind eventual champions Lille and runners-up Paris Saint-Germain, and while those two teams secured a place in the group stages of the Champions League directly, Monaco have been forced to fight their way through qualifications.
They entered the race from the third round, where they got past Sparta Prague without major difficulties, winning both legs; 0-2 in Prague, and 3-1 at home.
Not much can be deduced from the opening two rounds of the new season in the French top flight, but it’s fair to say that Niko Kovac’s team didn’t get off to the best of starts. They were held to a 1-1 draw on the opening day at home against Nantes, and suffered a 1-0 defeat away to Lorient. The only goal of the game was scored by Terem Moffi from the spot in the 31st minute.
The one point they have to their name has them in 14th place, though that obviously doesn’t mean too much at such an early stage. Qualifying for the Champions League is clearly their priority right now.
With Benjamin Lecomte still recovering from a muscle tear, Bayern Munich loanee Alexander Nubel is set to continue between the posts. Defender Benoit Badiashile suffered a shoulder injury in the second leg against Sparta and missed the Lorient clash. He remains a doubt.
Meanwhile, Guillermo Maripan is fit again and could replace 20-year-old Strahinja Pavlovic in the back line. Attacking midfielder Aleksandr Golovin, striker Wissam Ben-Yedder and left-back Ciao Henrique are all expected to start after being benched against Lorient.
Shakhar appointed former Sassuolo coach Roberto De Zerbi in May, and his arrival seems to have brought goals to the Ukrainian side’s game. Having finished second to Dynamo Kiev last term with an 11-point deficit, they will be looking to regain the crown in the domestic top flight as soon as possible.
Like in France, the league started only recently. Shakhtar have so far played four matches, winning three and losing one. The only blip came in the third round when they were surprised at home by Oleksandrya, who won the match by 1-2. Meanwhile, Shakhtar emerged victorious 2-1 at home against Inhulets, 0-3 away to Lviv, and 2-0 at home against Metalist 1925 last week with Taras Stepanenko and Lassina Traore hitting the target.
Like Monaco, De Zerbi’s team entered these qualifications in the third round and beat Belgian side Genk twice, 2-1 at both venues.
Forward Pedrinho is a doubt for this match following a muscle injury he picked up in the second leg against Genk. Traore has already scored four goals in six matches for Shakhtar and his place in the team can hardly be questioned, especially with veteran striker Junior Moraes still out with a knee ligament rupture.
Shakhtar have been on better form than Monaco recently, and it’s fair to say that they probably have more quality in their ranks as well. Nonetheless, given that this is only the first leg, they will be cautious in their approach and happy to walk away undefeated.
Best odds: 3