KYIV – There was a collective gasp in the stadium as almost 10,000 fans in the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex watched the ball crash against the woodwork. Not just once, but twice. First, Barella hit the frame of the goal with a thunderous right-footed strike from the edge of the box. Then, Lukaku struck the bar with a free kick that was touched onto the bar by the impressive Trubin in between the sticks for Shakhtar. But that’s not all: Conte’s men missed a number of chances, with Lautaro notably failing to find the net from close range at the start of the second half. Ultimately, Inter weren’t able to break through. Unlike in August, Shakhtar came prepared, doing their best to avoid mistakes in their build-up play. However, they never really threatened going forward. The 0-0 draw in Kyiv means that the Nerazzurri now sit on two points in the group ahead of their upcoming double-header against Real Madrid. A change of pace will be necessary.
The last encounter between Shakhtar and Inter in the Europa League semi-final in August provided important insights on how to approach a match against the Ukrainians. They’re a lively, fast and technical team with willing runners, and they like to move the ball around. In Germany, Inter completely nullified these characteristics with one precise weapon: the aggression they displayed in the opposition half. Because if Castro’s side are attacked, they tend to give their opponents chances, despite the compact nature of their defensive and midfield lines when they’re out of possession. The Nerazzurri spent the first 15 minutes of tonight’s match looking for a way through, and then they began to land a few blows. First, Lautaro saw his header saved by the goalkeeper, and then Lukaku began to trouble Shakhtar’s backline by vigorously engaging in a host of duels.
The Belgian was involved in Barella’s big chance: after being denied by Trubin, he laid the ball back for the Italian midfielder, whose half-volley cannoned off the bar. The score remained 0-0, despite the fact that Inter had the first seven efforts at goal, including a close-range Lukaku header that went narrowly wide. At the end of the first half, Conte’s men were denied by the woodwork again: Lukaku fired a brilliant free kick at Trubin’s goal, but the Shakhtar shot-stopper intervened with an equally fantastic fingertip save. More frustration for the Nerazzurri.
The second half had less rhythm and intensity. The styles of play didn’t change, with Inter in control and Shakhtar more focused on defending rather than attacking. The tight-knit lines of defence drawn up by Castro don’t allow much space to play: Shakhtar’s opponents must wait to find gaps through the middle or out wide in order to create dangerous situations. A huge chance came in the 54th minute: after nice combination play between Lukaku and Brozovic, the Croatian pinged a brilliant effort that Trubin parried, with Lautaro subsequently missing the rebound from seven yards out. The Argentine’s miss upset the Nerazzurri’s rhythm, and they started to lose their intensity. As the minutes went by, Shakhtar grew in confidence but failed to truly test Handanovic. Inter had moments in which they shone, but they grew increasingly rare, and the Ukrainians were able to defend in an increasingly comfortable fashion. Conte’s didn’t have the desired effect: the 0-0 scoreline didn’t change.
SHAKHTAR D. 0-0 INTER
SHAKHTAR DONETSK (4-2-3-1): 81 Trubin; 2 Dodô, 5 Khocholava (22 Matviyenko 62'), 77 Bondar, 15 Korniienko; 27 Maycon, 8 Marcos Antonio; 14 Tetê, 11 Marlos (21 Alan Patrick 88'), 19 Solomon; 9 Dentinho (7 Taison 15').
Substitutes: 1 Shevchenko, 30 Pyatov, 6 Stepanenko, 23 Vakula, 28 Marquinhos, 49 Vitão, 50 Bolbat, 59 V'Yunnik, 61 Sudakov.
INTER (3-4-1-2): 1 Handanovic; 33 D'Ambrosio (36 Darmian 79'), 6 de Vrij, 95 Bastoni; 2 Hakimi, 77 Brozovic, 22 Vidal (24 Eriksen 79'), 15 Young (99 Pinamonti 85'); 23 Barella; 9 Lukaku, 10 Lautaro (14 Perisic 72').
Substitutes: 27 Padelli, 35 Stankovic, 11 Kolarov, 13 Ranocchia, 42 Moretti, 44 Nainggolan, 46 Vezzoni, 50 Bonfanti.
Coach: Antonio Conte.
Bookings: Bastoni (I), Vidal (I)
Added time: 2' - 3'
Referee: Kabakov (BUL)
Assistants: Margaritov, Valkov (BUL)
Fourth Official: Chinkov (BUL)
VAR and VAR Assistant: Zwayer, Achmüller (GER)