While most eyes will be on the game that takes place at the Bernabeu this evening, arguably the most evenly-matched tie of the Champions League last 16 kicks off in Ukraine at the Donbass Arena as Shakhtar Donetsk host Borussia Dortmund.
It may not sound as glamorous as some of the other fixtures in the first knock-out round, but it looks set to be an intriguing and easy-on-the-eye encounter between the current Ukrainian Premier League and Bundesliga champions, both of whom progressed from two very difficult groups.
Shakhtar emerged as runners-up behind Juventus to end Chelsea’s hopes of defending their title, while Dortmund remained unbeaten as they topped a group that consisted of Real Madrid, Ajax and Manchester City – all champions of their domestic leagues.
Mircea Lucescu’s Shakhtar side have been priced as narrow outsiders to secure a win ahead of their second-leg trip to the Westfalenstadion in two weeks’ time at 17/10, with the draw at 12/5, while an away success for Jurgen Klopp’s men can be backed at 29/20.
The home side sit top of the Ukrainian Premier League, 13 points clear of their nearest rivals, but they haven’t played a competitive fixture since the beginning of December as the league’s three-month winter break is only set to end next weekend.
In the intervening period, they have contested a host of friendly matches, winning ten out of 12, and while they will undoubtedly be fresher than their German counterparts, there is a concern that they could lack the match sharpness gained by playing competitive fixtures.
They also lost influential Brazilian attacking midfielder Willian to Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala during the break in a £30 million deal and will be hoping his fellow countryman and new signing Taison, who had been tracked by Chelsea, will be able to fill the void.
Dortmund currently sit second in the Bundesliga, with their hopes of retaining the league title all but over as they trail league leaders Bayern Munich by 15 points, and head into this game on the back of a disappointing 4-1 defeat at home to Hamburg.
However, they have been impressive in Europe and showed their quality on their travels in the group stages as they saw off Ajax 4-1, before securing 1-1 and 2-2 draws at City and Madrid respectively, with all three dispatched at home.
One thing that looks certain in this match is goals, with Shakhtar failing to score in just one home game this term, while Dortmund, who possess a young and exciting attack that can unlock any defence on their day, have kept just one clean sheet in their last 19 away games in this competition.
Over 2.5 goals in the game is odds-on at 3/4, but it is over 3.5 goals, as has been the case in six of the last seven Dortmund matches, that looks tempting at 7/4, with Klopp’s side showing in their group outings that they won’t come just to defend.
In Robert Lewandowski, the German side have a man in good goalscoring form, with the Polish international finding the net in his last six outings, and he is an attractive 5/1 to open proceedings or a safer 6/4 bet to score at any time.
Fellow attacker and German international Marco Reus found the net in all three of his side’s away games in the group stages, opening the scoring in each, and he’s certainly worth considering to repeat the feat at 6/1.
While Shakhtar have been a formidable outfit at home this season, the fact that their last competitive fixture was over two months ago – and that their last friendly outing saw them go down 1-0 to Norwegian side Odd Grenland – a Dortmund victory looks on the cards.
With their league battle now as good as over, Klopp and his players will be desperate to produce the goods in Europe and an away success in a game that involves over 3.5 goals at 11/2 would see a very healthy return on your money.