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Besiktas and Shakhtar Donetsk surprise packages in this season's UEFA Champions League

Friday 3rd November 2017
The reigning Turkish and Ukrainian title holders began their respective Champions League campaigns without much hype. Four games in, however, Besiktas and Shakhtar Donetsk are close to securing a berth in knockout stages.

With only two matches remaining before the Champions League group stages conclude, the usual suspects have either already booked their place in next round or are close to doing so. Several sides which weren't expected to progress, at least on paper, are exceeding expectations, though.

In that regard, this season's two standout teams are Shakhtar Donetsk and Besiktas. But how has each side gotten to this point? We have taken a look, starting with the Ukrainians.

Shakhtar Donetsk



Shakhtar got squared in the same group as Manchester City, Napoli and Feyenoord. Game over? Most fans believed so. Surely the best they could hope for was to finish third in the standings, pipping their Dutch counterparts. The reigning Ukrainian champions have surpassed expectations, though, currently sitting in second place with nine points. Napoli is six points adrift, meaning Paulo Fonseca's men need just one more point from next two games to secure a berth in last 16.
This is a surprising scenario, no doubt, for two main reasons. First, Shakhtar's talent pool has diminished over past few seasons. And second, Napoli is a top Serie A team while Feyenoord is the reigning Eredivisie champions. However, Shakhtar know their strengths and weaknesses, which enables them to compete with Europe's top teams.

Of course, the Ukrainians wouldn't be performing like they are without a strong attacking line. Once again they have assembled a capable one filled with Brazilian flair. Taison, Bernard, Dentinho and Alan Patrick feature regularly. But farther forward, it's an Argentine who puts the chances away. Facundo Ferreyra has scored 15 goals this season, with two coming in the Champions League.
In Shakhtar's most recent European encounter, Ferreyra's goal, along with a brace from Marlos, helped secure a 3-1 victory over Feyenoord. Next up is a trip to Napoli, followed by a home game against Man City.

Can Fonseca's side jump the final hurdle to book place in Champions League knockout stages? Time will tell. For now, one thing is certain - Shakhtar Donetsk won't prove easy opposition for any team.

Besiktas



Shakhtar is in a promising position, but Besiktas' feat is even greater. The Turkish side have been the biggest surprise in this season's Champions League thus far. With only two games left on the group stage schedule, all signs indicate they will clinch a spot in knockout stages sooner than later. Manager Senol Gunes will be a happy man.
Gunes' men currently sit top of Group G with ten points, four above the second-placed team, FC Porto, and six ahead of the side in third, RB Leipzig. It means the worst Besiktas can come away with is a spot in the Europa League; however, they are striving for a bigger reward. With just one point required from remaining two games, they should achieve their target. A home encounter against Porto on 21 November presents a great opportunity.

But how has the Turkish club managed to top a group consisting of three more highly fancied, possibly superior, sides? Well, it becomes evident when we take a closer look.

Besiktas is in a good place now due to transactions during last transfer window. The club acquired Pepe and Gary Medel to strengthen the defence, with Jeremain Lens and Alvaro Negredo arriving to bolster the attack. The Super Lig side already featured an impressive attacking line with Ricardo Quaresma, Anderson Talisca, Ryan Babel and Cenk Tosun. Now it's even deeper. The numbers certainly back up that claim.

Besiktas have scored eight times in four Champions League games. Babel has two goals, one assist. Talisca also found the net twice, with Quaresma providing three assists. Tosun, however, leads the way with four goals.
Both Shakhtar Donetsk and Besiktas are in excellent positions to qualify for last 16. But just how far can the sides go in this season's Champions League?
Juan Pablo Aravena

29-year-old sports analyst and journalist with over three years of experience in the industry. Writes about all kinds of sports from football to golf, but there is no question his biggest passion in life is football. Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Colo Colo fan.


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