Shakhtar and Roma look set to produce a thrilling contest
Kharkiv clash likely to be lively
Champions League last-16 first leg
BT Sport 3, 7.45pm Wednesday
Shakhtar head coach Paulo Fonseca says fans should brace themselves for fun and games at the Metalist Stadion in Kharkiv where goals look to be on the cards in the Pitmen’s round-of-16 first-leg tie at home to Roma.
Fonseca believes the Ukrainian champs only play on the front foot and he expects a similar approach from Roma, who have headed for Kharkiv on the back of three straight wins.
The game itself looks hard to call, possibly because of the likelihood of goals.
Roma go into the last 16 as Group C winner, topping a section featuring Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. Yet Shakhtar’s feat in separating Manchester City and Napoli in Group F was every bit as noteworthy.
They won all three of their home assignments, although the City side sent out to Ukraine on matchday six wasn’t their strongest.
Roma, third in Serie A at the moment though miles adrift of Napoli and Juventus, are favourites to qualify despite having lost their last three ties when qualifying for this stage.
You could make a case for all three outcomes but it’s arguably easier to build an argument for backing over 2.5 goals at 11-10.
We’ve seen in recent seasons and again this season that first-leg caginess no longer works. Away sides go in search of away goals these days. Last week, the first four second-round ties produced at least four goals each with the away team on target (in the first half) in all cases.
Last season the away side scored in six of the eight first-leg ties and six of the eight also produced three goals or more.
Five of Shakhtar’s six group games produced over 2.5 and it's hard to imagine they will suddenly apply the brakes now that they are in the knockout phase of the competition.
They returned from their winter break on Friday with a 5-0 rout of Chernomorets Odessa with Marlos and Facundo Ferreyra scoring two each. Ferreyra has hit 11 in his last 12 outings while Brazilian-born Marlos is playing out of his skin alongside compatriots Bernard and Taison.
Another Brazilian, Roma’s star keeper Allison, can expect to be busy but he’s the last line of a Roma side who have been revived in recent weeks.
Seven matches without a win either side of Christmas saw their Coppa Italia and scudetto hopes extinguished but they’ve now won three in a row – albeit against Verona, Benevento and Udinese – and seem far happier and more potent having switched to a 4-2-3-1 from a 4-3-3 under Eusebio Di Francesco.
The emergence of young Turkish flier Cengiz Under has persuaded Di Francesco to alter his formation and they suddenly look far more comfortable.
They won only one of their three group away games – at Qarabag – but were a serious threat in their 3-3 draw at Chelsea.
Eleven-goal Edin Dzeko is a super-consistent threat these days but for a first scorer bet Radja Nainggolan at 11-1 appeals more than the 5-1 about the Bosnian. The Belgian schemer is playing in the number ten role and looking a serious threat.
Bernard, enjoying his best season in front of goal for the hosts, is 14-1 but picked up a shoulder injury on Friday.
Over 2.5 goals
2pts 11-10 Betfair, Paddy Power
Dario Srna is suspended. Bernard is expected to recover from a shoulder strain.
Alessandro Florenzi has gone down with a bug. Skipper Daniele de Rossi needs to prove his fitness after returning from a layoff. Full-back Rick Karsdorp is injured.
Shakhtar’s last 12 games have produced 43 goals.
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