After what transpired at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday and the storm that continues to engulf Real Madrid, manager Rafael Benitez may well be grateful to be nearly 2,000 miles away this week. Real Madrid will take on Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on Wednesday just four days after a chastening 4-0 defeat to great rivals Barcelona in El Clásico. And while the 10-time European Cup winners have already guaranteed a place in the last 16 of the Champions League and need just three points from their last two matches to make sure they progress as group winners, the pressure will be far from off.
The repercussions from the Clásico debacle have been severe and show no sign of abating anytime soon. Less than 48 hours after the loss, president Florentino Perez held a hastily arranged press conference, where it was thought by some he would announce the firing of Benitez. Instead, Perez gave the man he appointed less six months ago his full backing. Still, the performance on Saturday reflected anything but a club where everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Scrutinized most intensely of all has been the team selection Benitez opted for, which featured an unbalanced, attacking lineup that seemingly went against all of the former Liverpool and Valencia coach’s principals. The lineup Benitez selects on Wednesday, then, which will definitely be without captain Sergio Ramos and left-back Marcelo through injury, will be the subject of intense analysis.
“I'm not going to make changes based on what people write or say,” he said in his pre-match press conference, reports Spanish sports daily Marca. “I've figured out what the score is here. When we were doing well, stories were coming out saying something else entirely. It doesn't matter what I do because everyone will put their own spin on it anyway. I like to rotate when we play twice in a week.
“I'm working hard to get things right and to make the fans happy. I don't care how much criticism I get. It's clear that there are people at large who aren't looking out for Real Madrid's interests. The team were panned even when we were going great guns, with stats that were beyond question. It seems that's the way things go round here, though.”
While Real Madrid now trail Barcelona by six points in La Liga, in the Champions League things have gone much smoother. A 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain last time out means Madrid have a three-point edge over the French champions as well as the head-to-head advantage. A win on Wednesday and top spot in Group A will be theirs with a game to spare.
It has been a very different story for Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukrainian side had reached the knockout phase of the Champions League in three of the last five seasons, but a dismal start this time around soon left their hopes hanging by a thread. Three straight defeats, all without scoring a goal, left Shakhtar needing a miracle to advance.
A convincing win over Malmö last time out, means they retain some hope of progressing, though they realistically need to win their remaining games against Real Madrid and PSG and hope the side from the French capital fail to beat Malmö in Sweden on Wednesday. For the time being, coach Mircea Lucescu, who will be without captain Darijo Srna and fellow defender Olexandr Kucher through suspension, is simply seeking an improvement on his team’s performance when losing 4-0 to Madrid at the Bernabeu in September.
“For our team, it's very important to avoid the mistakes we committed in Madrid,” he said, reports Uefa.com. “I'd prefer not to see the fear we showed there after the first goal we conceded. I'd like to see the same team we saw in the home game against Malmö, the team that is confident in its potential.”
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Deportes
Live stream info: Fox Soccer 2Go