Real Madrid confront their first opportunity to clinch top spot in Group A as they visit Shakhtar Donetsk on matchday five of the Champions League group stage (8:45pm CET), in what is their third away assignment in Europe this season. Lviv, where the Ukrainian outfit are currently playing their home games as a result of the ongoing troubles in Donetsk, will witness the Whites in competitive action for the first time ever. A victory for Rafa Benítez’s men would ensure they go into the draw for the last 16 as group winners, although – depending on Paris Saint-Germain’s result against Malmö – they could also mathematically seal first place even without taking all three points.
Madrid head into the clash with a record of three wins and a draw in this term’s Champions League, with their triumph over PSG last time out seeing them book their qualification for the next round. In addition to being unbeaten so far, Real Madrid are the only club still to concede a goal in the tournament this season. In recent years, their figures in the group stage have been nothing short of tremendous: they are on a run of 19 games without loss in the competition’s round-robin phase, nine of which on the road.
Benítez has taken 20 players to Lviv. Nacho Fernández and Denis Cheryshev return to the squad, while Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Álvaro Arbeloa have not travelled. “We’re out to get the win and make sure of top spot”, declared the Real Madrid coach in his pre-match press conference.
Shakhtar, whose qualification fate is out of their hands, realistically need a win to have any chance of keeping themselves in contention. Mircea Lucescu’s side are third in the group on three points, after defeating Malmö on the most recent matchday. Last season’s Ukrainian Premier League runners-up are on a sequence of 12 league victories in a row, one that has left them as leaders of the division, level on points with Dynamo Kiev. Alex Teixeira, who is on 19 goals in the domestic top flight, represents their chief attacking threat.
This will be Real Madrid’s seventh European fixture in Ukraine (having previously played four in Kiev and two in Odessa). They came away from their last trip to the country with a 2-2 draw against Dynamo Kiev in 2006. In each of these encounters, the Whites were forced to contend with the cold, and tonight will be no different: the forecast is for match temperatures dropping as low as below freezing.