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Tuesday 23 October 2012

Champions League: Daunting Shakhtar test for Chelsea

Holders fly to in-form Shakhtar Donetsk while a Man Utd host Braga with the Blues in mind

Juan Mata has been in irrepressible form for Chelsea of late

The UEFA Champions League resumes this week starting with Manchester United and Chelsea both looking to build on free-scoring victories in the Barclays Premier League.

Chelsea go into this evening's UEFA Champions League encounter with FC Shakhtar Donetsk striving to maintain their impressive early season form.

The unbeaten Barclays Premier League pacestters will have boarded their flight to Ukraine in good heart after having recorded a pulsating 4-2 victory at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

"I think that these players deserve all the credit after an extremely difficult season last time out"
Roberto Di Matteo

Roberto Di Matteo's charges are enjoying their best start to a domestic campaign since winning the title in 2005/06 and, having scored four goals in each of the last three matches, the Blues have every reason to feel confident in the competition they won last season.

The Pitmen, who share the Group E summit with Chelsea, will be no pushovers, however, after becoming the first team to win the first 12 matches of a Ukrainian top-flight season and maintaining their record-breaking run of scoring in each of their last 31 league fixtures.

Chelsea, who have lost only two of their last 11 away Champions League group encounters, will need to be particularly wary of Armenian international Henrik Mkhitaryan, who has scored 14 goals in those dozen matches.

Di Matteo, though, is delighted with the way his players are performing, not least Juan Mata, who scored twice in both the success at White Hart Lane and the 4-0 defeat of Nordsjaelland on 2 October.

"I'm just happy to be working with my players," said Di Matteo on Monday. "I have this club in my heart.

"I think that these players deserve all the credit after an extremely difficult season last time out. Now we have integrated new players in our system. I'm here to help, and to do my job as well as I can, and I hope that will continue for a long time.

Manchester United's Ashley Young is expected to start against Braga

Young hope for United start

Group H leaders Manchester United could rest a number of players at home against SC Braga with Sunday's top-of-the-table Barclays Premier League trip to Chelsea in mind.

"I'll be leaving out Rio [Ferdinand] and Patrice Evra, and a couple of the older players, in light of the game on Sunday"
Sir Alex Ferguson

United, who recorded a 4-2 win over Stoke City on Saturday, are facing a Braga side who lie second in their section after a 2-0 triumph at Galatasaray last time out but manager Sir Alex Ferguson, whose side have registered back-to-back victories against the Turkish Super Lig outfit and CFR Cluj, has decided to rest a number of senior players, with half an eye on Sunday's trip to Stamford Bridge.

"For me, Braga are better away from home and they proved that with their 2-0 win at Galatasaray," said Ferguson. "So, once again it looks like counterattacking football will play a big part, which we also saw in our first game here against Galatasaray.

"They caused us problems but we managed to hold out until half-time and took a hold of the game in the second period. I'll be leaving out Rio [Ferdinand] and Patrice Evra, and a couple of the older players, in light of the game on Sunday.

"We've had some success with a [midfield] diamond recently, while at this club we've always had a tradition of playing with wide players. We've got Ashley Young back, Nani, [Antonio] Valencia and [Ryan] Giggs, who are all wide players, while we've got plenty of options in central midfield too."

Group E fixtures
FC Shakhtar Donetsk v Chelsea (7.45pm)
FC Nordsjaelland v Juventus (7.45pm)

Group H fixtures
Manchester United
v SC Braga (7.45pm)
Galatasaray v CFR Cluj (7.45pm)

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Key Points

  • Chelsea travel to Shakhtar Donetsk for UEFA Champions League Group E encounter
  • Both sides have made superb starts to their domestic campaigns
  • Manchester United expected to start with Ashley Young and Nani in home encounter with SC Braga in Group H tie